Friday, 27 September 2013


After a brief few hours in Hanoi again, we headed to Hue, until this point we hadn't traveled on the infamous sleeper buses of South East Asia.  We were not disappointed.  Our bus came with complimentary being shouted at and hit several times by a very angry bus driver because we hadn't taken our shoes off.

Now I'm sorry but maybe have a sign? Or tell us?  Either way it was not the best intro to sleeper buses which are also impossibly uncomfortable, and hard to sleep in, being that you are basically in a tiny slanting box.

Once we got to Hue, we set out to find our hostel, meeting our (now) very good friend Victor.

We started hanging out together and the first stop was The Imperial city, which was the fortress and palace of the emperor of Vietnam.  It was very Chinese in appearance and had many Chinese characters displayed.

 It was also very much in ruins a lot of it, and they were renovating it while we were there, a lot of damage had been done to it during the American-Vietnamese war, and you could still see many bullet holes.

It was a very beautiful and impressive building, and was huge in size.  My favorite part through was the massive pond of Koi Carp, which would come to the surface thinking you would feed them. I found it beautiful.

After this we decided to go down the Huong river on a dragon boat.  We went to look for one and a very persistent lady convinced us to go on her boat.

We were greeted on board by he husband and sons.  The boat ride then turned into an hour long sales pitch, of all there various wares.  First we were treated to her husbands coin collection which he was very proud of, and was very excited when Victor gave him some Swedish krona and wanted to know exactly how many American dollars it was worth, it was quickly pocketed to join the collection at a later date.

 It was around this time we all noticed the husband had two thumbs!

The wife then showed us various paintings she had done (Mum and Dad this is the Artist who did painted your Christmas presents!)  and various other items she had.  It was actually a really lovely boat ride (although the river itself was rather boring).

We then went for diner in a night market!

The next day me and Andy did a cookery lesson, which was really good fun, we first went to the market,

and then we made some weird and delicious Vietnamese cuisine, such as Rice paper spring rolls, and Pho (the national dish made of beef  and noodle soup) yummy!

The day after we did the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) tour where we met a new Australian friend Leah.  Since I didn't know much about the American/Vietnamese war it was really interesting, and very sad.  It was a long time on the bus, but the tour guide was really amazing.  My favorite thing he said was "A million Vietnamese mothers cried for their sons, A million American mothers cried for their sons".  It shows that the Vietnamese are starting to heal and move on from the war.  We learnt a lot about Guerrilla warfare, about the Vietcong, Ho Chi Minh and the victory of Communism and the Vietnamese.  We saw the tunnels that the Vietnamese lived in during the war.

I have no idea how they did it, it was really hot, dark and tiny down there!  We also saw an old American army air base, and saw all the old aircrafts and tanks.

Next Stop Hoi An!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Cuc phuong national park

After our adventure in Ha long bay, me and Andy found ourselves back in Hanoi with a day to kill.  So we went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.  It is a rather bizarre concept as far as I am concerned, as Ho Chi Minh's dying wish was to be cremated and instead the Vietnamese have placed his embalmed body in a giant Mausoleum for all the public to visit... I mean c'mon guys...

But anyway we visited it.  It took a long while to get there as half the roads were closed off, and then when we did we had to go through so many checkpoints to make sure we didn't have any cameras on us.  We eventually got into the granite mausoleum, and walked into the room, which had 8 armed guards in it, we did a quick walk past Ho Chi Minh and that was it.  So interesting but I wont be visiting again!

We then began our journey to Cuc Phuong National Park.  We caught the bus there, but unfortunately it dropped us miles away from the actual park, so we ended up getting a taxi to the entrance, (we luckily found a hotel and they let us use there phone)

It was getting late by the time we got to the park.  They explained to us that they had accommodation at the entrance of the park, which we would be staying in that night, and then the next day we could cycle 20 km up hill into the centre of the park and stay in that accommodation for the next night!

We decided to go on a short walk around the botanic garden as it was going to get dark soon.  This comprised of an over grown forest, which got increasingly dark with the beginning of night fall.  We managed to get out of the "Botanic Garden" and were greeted with a display of fire flies.  It was amazing, this beautiful experience was then hindered somewhat by then being barked and slightly chased by 2 dogs, which is terrifying when your in the middle of nowhere and its pitch black.

We then got to our accommodation for the night which was basic but fine, our toilet was outside and across a bridge, which was fine and you got to see alot of weird insects.

The Next day we woke up and took a trip around the 2 sanctuaries they have at Cuc Phuong.  The first one was a turtle sanctuary, where most of the turtles had been saved from being made into soup (there is a big illegal trade with China for it), some of the turtles are very endangered.  There was one little guy we loved, he was just so active.

The second sanctuary was the Primate and monkey sanctuary, which contained so many types of monkeys I had never seen heard or seen before.  Some were very beautiful.  Most of them had been injured some way or trapped by hunters and then saved.  They then keep them in the sanctuary until there stronger, then they are released into a caged off part of the forest until they can survive by themselves (apparently at the beginning they all come back to the fence to wait for food), it was really amazing to see these very endangered primates.  Most of them only live in Vietnam and the surrounding areas, so we were really lucky to see them.

We then hired our bikes, we then cycled towards and around a lake.

After we had been going a few km Andy felt sure we were going the wrong way, as the road didn't seem to be going uphill much, and we had been told it was uphill the whole way.  We then cycled back to the start to find out it was the right way!!!  So we had to start the whole thing again, but it was much better to check than to find out several hours later that we had been going the wrong way.

It was actually really fun, we stopped for a walk in the cave of the prehistoric man, which people had built a little shrine in, as it was where human remains had been found.  To get to it, you had to go along these bridges which I almost managed to cycle off of!

By the time we got to our accommodation we were exhausted, I couldn't barely ride anymore.  There was a little cafe a few km from where we were staying, so we went there to eat, then back to our place.

The place we were staying was super creepy.  There was alot of little holiday apartments dotted around and yet we were the only ones there, in the place we were in, outside our room was a fully laid table set for high tea, with "I Love You" written on the wall in white paint.

 Once we started getting our room ready to sleep in we noticed there was alot of blood everywhere.  It was dotted all over our mosquito nets, and there was a large dried patch on the floor!

This was made somewhat more terrifying as the electricity in the center of the forest is only on from 6.30 - 9.30pm, so at 9.30 the lights went off leaving us in pitch black.  We were scared in case there was a murder on the loose, but we survived the night!!!

The next morning we headed off for our 20km bike ride DOWNHILL!!!

 It was really exciting, we were going extremely fast, we got into the center uphill in 4hrs but back it only took us 1.5hrs, and that was with the onset of a monsoon, we hid in an abandoned shack for awhile and the realized it wasn't stopping.  The park staff were very kind and let us shower when we got back.  We then caught a little local mini van back to Hanoi.

Next stop Hue!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Ha Long Bay

It took me and Andy a long time to decide on which cruise to do through Ha Long bay.  We eventually chose the "Monkey Island" Tour, for 3 days.

We left the hostel (leaving our big packs there), early in the morning, and headed out on a bus.  We were slightly dismayed to see that there wasn't many young people on our cruise which was a shame.  The bus took quite awhile to reach the harbor.  Once we got there we saw our ship which was really nice, we got into our cabin which was lovely!  Much nicer than a lot of the hostels we had stayed at.

We were so lucky as even though the weather had been getting worse as winter was on the way, we had a beautiful warm sunny day. We started traversing the ocean.  We started to see Ha Long bay in the distance, and it looked like a wall of rocks.  As we sailed through a crevice we then saw the beauty of Ha long bay.  The odd shapes of the rock formations, the miniature islands.   We drifted through, until we got to the Dragon caves.

It sounds a lot more impressive than it actually was.  Ha long bay is actually made of limestone and has a quite a few of these impressive limestone caves.   This one however they had turned into Disneyland.  It was full of lurid bright coloured lights.  There was one limestone formation that was suppose to be the "dragon" with they projected red lights on for the "Eyes".  All I can say is it looked nothing like a dragon.  We were all herded back onto the boat, and we sailed to our next destination.

The next destination was a floating village where we got to Kayak around in the water.  We got to Kayak through a islet with a arch in it.  It took me and Andy a few goes to get through as everyone was trying to do it so there became a traffic jam of kayaks trying to get through.

We got back onto the boat and the sun started setting, as we relaxed on the top deck.

The next day we sailed to Cat ba island, we then took a bus to the middle of the island.  We were then met by a guide and started a trek up the hill in the middle of the island.  It was really good fun, but quite dangerous by the end, as there were so many different groups doing the walk, and the end part you basically had to rock climb to the top.  The view was amazing though once you got to the top.

There was actually an incredibly rusty viewing tower at the top which you could climb up to get an even better view, but our guide advised not to go up as people had died from falling from it!!! Me and Andy decided not to climb!

We then headed back to the boat and we were delivered to Monkey island, which was a beautiful little island with golden beaches and pretty beach huts to stay in.  Me and Andy did some more Kayak in once we got there, we actually kayaked up to a fisherman and said hi, which he found hilarious.  We then saw flying fish which was incredible.  They were small fish and if you were noisy they would jump altogether in a silver arch!

The food on monkey island was some of the best Ive ever had.  They also had this cute cross eyed cat that came up and begged for food, he was really cute.  They were also having an anniversary, so we had some free shots.  In the night time we drank with some of our new friends, Jessica, and some Irish boys.

The next day was just a lazy day sailing back to the main land, then driving back to Hanoi!  A incredible experience!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Hanoi / The start of Vietnam

After our crazy adventures in China, I was looking forward to Vietnam, partly because I had heard how beautiful it was, and partly because I had started to look forward to going places a little more touristy, because we had not met many friends in 7 weeks!

We left China on a night train to Vietnam.  The border change over felt strange but was fairly straight forward, basically everyone had to get of the train in China, then get back on, go a bit further up and then get off the train in Vietnam, get your passport stamped and then your away!

We arrived into Hanoi at 5am and then luckily were allowed into our beds at the hostel straight away.

We had 4 days in Hanoi, and we were quite laid back about our time.  I think you only really need 3 days there in total.

My favorite bits of Hanoi were -

The people.  I loved the Vietnam people, who were so friendly and smiley,after all the country have been through you think they would be suspicious of foreigners, but they graciously accept you into their land.  The way the family's operate is lovely as you see them all gather at meal ties from their various jobs (they all work long hours) and sit on little plastic chairs and eat together, while all the kids laugh and run around.  The sellers are all so nice and friendly and will accept that you don't want something, if you say no.

The food.  I have never tried any sort of Vietnamese food before and I have to say Hanoi was a great place to start!  My favorite was pho and bun cha.  Pho is a rice noodle soup with meat in it, which is really tasty.


Bun cha is really different from everything i had ever tried before.  You were presented with pork, salad, noodles  spring rolls and a pineapple water thing and then you constructed your own meal! Really delicious. And one of my personal favorites the mobile kebab people.  This is not your usual kebab these are the most amazing sandwiches you will ever have!

The way the streets are laid out.  Hanoi is crazy, there idea of urban planing is put everything of the same shop on the same street.  Useful if you want to check several shops for the same thing, not so useful if you need something lets say a light and light street is really far away!  My personal favorite streets were Christmas street (where we were staying), disco light street, and the most terrifying street of all (and the stuff which night mares are made of) Mannequin street!

The water puppet show.  Like going into a crazy dream that's actual real life.  The water show is a mix of tradition  music, puppets, lights and water.   It starts by showing a dragon and fairy (who looks like a bird) falling in love and then giving birth to 100 sons who in turn become the people of Vietnam!  Really weird but really fun.

The traffic.  Its so crazy, you just have to start walking out into traffic slowly and let the motorbikes and scooters swerve around you (there used to it).  It takes abit of getting use to it, as you feel crazy at first, stepping out into such dense traffic!

The parks and lakes.  Really nice places to hang out, and see how the locals live.  And also see all the brides getting their wedding photos taken!  And try and see the last 2 remaining big turtles that live in the lake (we didn't see them!)

The more sobering aspects of Hanoi were visiting the "Hanoi Hilton"  (Ho Lo Prison) - which was a prison during the war for independence from the french and a prisoner of war camp during the american war.  Both of which paint a very real and horrible picture of being imprisoned.

Next stop Halong Bay!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Nanning / Chinese drinking culture

We had to get an overnight train to Nanning.  Luckily our friend Dominic can speak a little Chinese so had managed to get our tickets for us.

The train was fine, but the walk to the hostel was really long, but once we got there the hostel was amazing.  It was called the Green Forest Hostel and had some really lovely staff.

The first day we didn't do very much but went to the night market which was pretty cool.  Andy tried duck's blood soup which was pretty horrible, like a grey broth with lumps of congealed blood in it.  They also hd loads of live fish there to choose and we saw a dead dog hung up to be eaten, which was interesting, but not a nice sight, especially as I have a little dog at home!

The next day me and Andy went to the park which was really cool.  There was a path that was completely misty, which they did by spraying cold steam into the air.

They also had a flower competition on and had created a dragon and a bird out of flowers, which was amazing.

It also had a small amusement park in it, where we went on a terrifying roller coaster that felt like it might break any moment, and a funny ghost house (funny because it was so bad!)!

We then went for a night out which is one of the most epic nights out ever.  We met a British guy who said that all the Chinese people in the club will buy drinks for you because your foreign. We were fairly skeptical about this, but went anyway.  Me and Andy bought some drinks, and then suddenly I was pulled up to the VIP area by some 50 year old men, then they started dancing with me and getting me to drink. I called over Andy and Isaac but the business men didn't like it being a joint deal and started dancing with all 3, and at the last moment we realized they had danced us out of the VIP area (we realized afterwards they were probably part of the government!)!

 Another group of young guys then called us over, and effectively used us as pulling tools to get ladies over to dance with them.  We found out they say gambae in China it means down your drink, and if you down drink it all they will hold it to your lips until you do. Any other conversation aside from gambae is limited to hand gestures as no one speaks English!

Isaac, Andy and our new friends
We found all the people we danced with very generous.  As soon as your cup is empty it is filled up straight away.  The drinks consists of whiskey and green tea, which sounds horrible but is actually pretty nice, and quite sweet, and its very good quality whiskey. the culture in China is for everyone to sit around tables, and there isn't much dancing, and as you order drinks the bar staff bring trays of fruit over to you!  Its completely different from the UK.

The club itself was very modern and swanky, they had a couple of singers on, a burlesque show and at one point handed out balloons for everyone to wave.  We stayed with our new friends until they started throwing up over the table, and we decided not to out stay our welcome.  We walked around the club and some Japanese business men pulled me to their table, telling me I was very beautiful, they had one of the club promoters (Charles, I cant remember his Chinese name!) with them translating for them, who I got on really well with, who was friends with another table which had some younger people on it.  The ladies there were downing several drinks in the time it took me to finish one!  They wanted me to drink faster but I was fairly hammered by this point.  And we left soon afterwards. A little worse for wear!

Me and Charles

The next day we didn't do anything as we were so hung over!