Archive for May, 2015

Vietnam 7

Posted in Uncategorized on May 15, 2015 by David Palmer

Another early start. Breakfasted and in the taxi to ‘My Son’ (pronounced meeson), by 8am.
After just over an hour travelling we were in the mountains and parked in this World Heritage Site. It was another very hot day, temperature 37 degrees! Leaving our driver in the car park we walked along the track leading to the site for around half a kilometre, to discover that in a large communal hut there was a band and folk dance group about to start, so we sat and watched for awhile.  Conscious of the increasing temperature, we vacated our seats after 15 minutes to begin our search of the ancient temples. There is supposed be 70 ancient Hindu Temples.
Fortunately much of the Temple complex is within the forest so we could walk in shade from building to building. The site is obviously very old but recent events (relatively speaking) have contributed majorly to its present sorry state. It suffered badly during the Vietnam War and you can still see the obvious signs of bomb craters, now overgrown.  Even so  the place still gives an impression of quiet significance.

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After having our fill and photos of all of those temples that had been excavated, and in some , partly restored, it was with some irony that we struck up a conversation with a couple from Texas whilst eating a couple of ice-creams in the little cafe. The elderly gentleman had last been to Vietnam when he was flying over it in B52’s, and no doubt partly responsible  for the destruction of what surely was this beautiful Hindu Temple Site. Not a hint of remorse was evident.

On returning to our taxi we broke the journey at a silk factory and I bought myself a shirt, before carrying on to the hotel. We had lunch of beer and spring rolls at our usual restaurant across the road, before showering back in the room to freshen up.

We caught the 4pm shuttle bus into The Old Town for our evening meal. We had decided to explore the opposite bank of the river so we crossed the bridge int the centre of the town. It was still quite muggy so we took our time and rested on  any bench we found empty and watched life pass by for a while, before moving on a few more seats. Reaching the end of the road we turned around, crossed the road and started to retrace our steps. Before long we took a side road away from the river and after a few hundred metres came across another river. Here we sat again and watched the boats with decks filled to capacity with mopeds, bicycles and locals. We think we were witnessing the departure of the day workers and the arrival of the night workers from down stream. Every few minutes another one would pass by, filled to the gunnels with the life of Hoi An. It was fascinating. When one arrived at the small dock we were sat at we watched as all the mopeds and cycles with their riders disembarked.I had been wondering how they managed to get the machines on and off without dropping them into the river, and now we know, they manhandle them one at a time.

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We moved on further down the river along the frontage of the local village houses. Most of them were keeping their livestock on the shore across the little path we were following. We stopped a few times to inspect some of the animals and when we took a particular fancy to about a dozen ducklings in a cage, its owner came over a fed them with what looked like a bowl of bean sprout soup. She then attempted to engage us in conversation but failed dismally. Her daughter came over and asked in halting English if we wanted to buy a duck. She failed to comprehend my sense of humour, so we moved on.
Discovering that this new river that we were following was actually the same river as the other one, we had just crossed onto an island, doh! We couldn’t make our mind up where to eat in the myriad of restaurants we had passed and could see, so we sat in a riverside bar to take on refreshments which would hopefully stimulate the decision-making cells. It did, we bought a couple of flashy toys from a pleasant girl hawker who came to our table,so that she could have some money to buy food to eat that night. And soon after, when a very sad cripple tried to sell us a free paper, we took pity on him and gave him some dollars. They both showed they were grateful but one was more deserving and in need  than the other.
We eventually settled on a restaurant back over the river in the Old Town that had a table on the second floor balcony from which we got a splendid view of the river and town life below.Again the scene was enchanting, and from our vantage point we could see all the little lucky lanterns floating down the river, so pretty. After ordering our meal, we were quite concerned about the new light show that appeared overhead. The clouds silhouetted with ever-increasing lightning flashes and the cool breeze became decidedly stronger. The stall holders and pavement traders below seemed unperturbed so we crossed our fingers and stayed put with the other diners. Eventually the light show diminished into the distance, the breeze abated and the food was consumed.

We caught the bus back to the hotel after yet another ice cream at the pick-up point and soon after arrival it was lights out!

Vietnam 6

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2015 by David Palmer

Our alarm system began ringing us at 2.26am. Soon after Charlotte sent a text saying the system was also ringing her.After some emailed instructions and a further text from Charlotte saying that it had been sorted by Suraj, I turned off my mobile and was about to return to sleep when Sarah Skyped me on my tablet. After a short conversation I finally got back to bed.
The alarm was set for 6.45am and duly woke us up. Showered and into breakfast for 7am, we had eaten our fill and were speeding along the highway in our taxi towards Marble Mountain.
The journey took about 40 mins, our driver paid for the tickets up the lift to the first level and showed where to meet when we had finished.  It was already starting to warm up and would reach 37 degrees by the time we had finished. The mountain rises vertical from the surrounding plain and has 5 caves within it, all with the obligatory shrines inside. The are several view points to climb to and savour the surrounding countryside as well as 4 Temples that churned out Buddhist Music or the sound of monks chanting. As the day wore on we came across more and more brave souls all braving the steep steps and withering heat. In one cave I was grabbed for my photograph to be taken with who I presume were Chinese tourists as this brought memories back of walking the Great wall.
When we reached ground level some 3 hours later on the other side of the mountain we stopped at a small cafe for beer and lemonade before being persuaded to part with some Dongs at a sculpture retailer. We now possess a horse and a snake sculpture each made from green marble. Retracing our steps back up the mountain, we visited the one Pagoda we had missed before descending in the lift to meet our driver again and two very cold towels, lovely. With air-con on full blast we drove back to the hotel.

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Resting back in our room we had another conversation with Sarah on Skype, this time she was still in bed. Ha, ha!
We discussed whether to go for lunch, but decided that we couldn’t be bothered as it was so hot and we didn’t feel in the least peckish. A little later we did venture down to the beach and walked through the waves along the shore. The highlight of which was to see a sea snake slither across the sand and into the waves to struggle against the breaking surf before finally disappearing out to sea. Not seen that before.

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Returning to the hotel we changed and having decided to eat in Hoi An that evening, we caught the shuttle bus into town.
The town was starting to take on a different character as we arrived, more like a carnival atmosphere. Though the same shops were open as were the street stalls, people in fancy/folk dress and musicians began appearing. The plan was to walk the length of the Old Town river bank and on the way back choose a restaurant to eat at. On the first part of our trek I bought a towel. If tomorrow is as hot as today it shall be used to wipe the perspiration from anywhere that needs it, today I nearly melted at times. I gave Sue 200 000 Dong ($10) and she promptly spent it all. 15 000 Dong on a large bag of peanuts, which should have been 20 000 Dong, but the seller’s wife took pity on the poor European and goaded him into parting with the goods. We then witnessed an exchange of blows between the seller and another gentleman, who presumably  said something derogatory about the transaction he had just made. She later negotiated with a shopkeeper to purchase a T-shirt, I ducked into the restaurant next door, well out-of-the-way of any collateral damage when Sue went into her bargaining mode. It was this restaurant that we chose to eat in. The food was lovely and the beer and cider was practically being given away at the price they were charging (and would have been if Sue had her way).

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Afterwards we walked into the centre of the Old Town to see what was happening. It was magical. The Pretty lanterns lit in the trees and the dancing lights suspended on the bridges was a scene from fairyland. There was even little paper lantern boats lit with candles floating down stream. We stopped to watch and listen to some Folk music and played another game of screeching Bingo to no avail. We laughed at a game where blindfold contestants had to smash a pot suspended from a tree with a stick to win a prize, with the crowd shouting instructions and the organisers banging drums to drown out the cries of the crowd. What fun. The Vietnamese stood no chance as they are far too small to reach the pot, but the first European that had a go, smashed it easily. One up for Macdonalds.
There were so many delightful things going on all along the streets that we reluctantly made our way back to where our bus was hopefully going to pick us up. While we waited we had the same ice-creams as before and this time we did get onto what in the end was a full coach. We packed in a shed load of wonderful memories this evening and I am sure that in future hot summer’s evenings in the Uk my mind is going to drift back to tonight.

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Climbing up the steps of the hotel I caught my toe and now I have a bloody and sore big toe-nail. Ouch! Hopefully the plaster I stuck on it will do the job. Tomorrow will tell. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Vietnam 5 (Alarms & Stranded!)

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2015 by David Palmer

At precisely 1.16am this morning I received a text from Charlotte. The house alarm had been triggered by Jamie and he couldn’t turn it off. A flurry of texts were then exchanged giving instructions and around 1.30am I sent a text and turned it off myself before sinking back into my nice, comforting, unalarming pillow.
A lovely breakfast of a more international choice, I stuck with the Asian selection din sum etc. and Sue went  European with fruit. Afterwards, we caught the 9am shuttle-bus into Hoi An. The twenty-minute journey gave us our first real sight of the surrounding area. Unlike the north, the paddy fields here were being harvested and families of farmers were out with their sickles gathering bundles of rice plants. A lovely scene of bobbing bamboo hats and brown tunics, though I guess in reality it is back-breaking work and they started work long before we had breakfast.
We were dropped off in a car park near the Old Town next to a restaurant. I checked with the driver if this is where he will pick us up later in the day and he said yes.
Making our way through the narrow streets, quite busy with locals and tourists alike (even for that time in the morning) we soon came across a kiosk at the side of the road that sold entrance tickets. So we bought two. We hadn’t previously known that Hoi An, Old Town was a designated World Heritage Site. The ticket had cut-away parts to it that gave us access to five of the twenty two historical buildings within the site. We meandered through the narrow streets looking for the buildings that were indicated on the map we had been given with the tickets, deciding from the outside whether to sacrifice one of the portions or not. At the very first one we bought a couple of sketches. Next was a bridge built by Japanese traders and then at the Cultural Centre we were entertained to a Vietnamese Folk band, singer and dancers. The dancers told a story and for once the accompanying singer didn’t have a cat in her throat scrabbling up a galvanised windpipe.  Somehow during the performance we played a game of bingo to win one of four hanging lanterns. We didn’t even come a close fifth.

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The day was warming up and it became necessary to seek the shadier part of the street, so after another purchase, this time after much consideration of heads sporting beards, made wholly from dried bamboo rhizomes (quite unique) we made our way to the river bank and selected a restaurant with a pleasant garden to have drinks.
Suitably cool and refreshed we left the shade of the banana plantation our table was situated in and went in search of our next venue.  Having found the historical Community Assembly House and marvelled at its wooden structure I bought a good luck coin for my birth year. You won’t be surprised to learn that it bears the same lucky creature as Jamie, a snake! Sue is a horse, Charlotte is a dog and Sarah a rooster.
We then had lunch at Miss Lyns. We both opted for spring rolls, Sue vegetable with watermelon juice and I prawn with a concoction make from barley, hops and water. Our final ticketed venue was another house with a very fine cool garden that possessed a huge beautiful ceramic dragon set within a pool. We did manage to enter another interesting ancient building as the ticket collector took pity on us as we had run out of portions. I do like the Vietnamese.

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From there we made our way back to the pick-up point for the shuttle-bus (as pointed out by the driver). We were fifty mins early for the 4.20pm bus, so we idled the time away  eating ice-cream in the restaurant. We were surprised to see Ron and Jenny from Hanoi and Halong Bay get off another hotel’s shuttle-bus. We chatted a while and then they left to discover the town themselves. A few minutes later to our annoyance we saw our shuttle-bus leave from across the other side of the car park with empty seats without coming to the pick-up point! Though Sue dashed to stop him he had turned into the road and was gone. We deliberated on whether to wait two hours for the next one or get a taxi. Sue was tired and in need of a cold shower, so we got a taxi. On arrival back at the hotel we complained bitterly to Reception who afterwards went off to investigate.
While Sue had her shower I sat at the Services Desk and looked through some of the tours that were available, while I was there my glasses broke. Kindly the member of staff had them taken away to be mended. I am beginning to think that my coin is not so lucky after all. Perhaps I have been conned?
Later we both returned to the desk. My glasses had been fixed and we set about booking a couple of tours for the next two days.
Later that evening we crossed the road again to the restaurant of the evening before and ate. The owner came and sat with us at the end of the meal and we chatted about  children, schools, family and her childhood and the changes that had taken place for well over and our, before paying the bill and returning to the hotel.
We diverted to the beach and mused about the pretty  little lights, twinkling out to sea before returning to our room for an undisturbed nights sleep (fingers crossed).

Vietnam 4

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12, 2015 by David Palmer

The alarms we had set woke as at 7am and we were soon down into breakfast. There had been a thunderstorm in the night but Sue had slept soundly through it, I heard around 4 of the concussions but then dropped off back to sleep. The streets outside looked damp from our bedroom window, but the sun was up and they would soon clear. Unlike previously, the breakfast room only had a few guests eating and they appeared to be from Fiji. The Reception of the sister hotel however was full of clamouring French that were departing somewhere, hopefully onto some whale watching Greenpeace ship.
Stocked up with calories we set off on our planned route to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Our route was pretty straightforward, but some how with all the suicidal chicken runs across the numerous junctions blocking our progress, we managed to find the Literacy Museum instead.

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As we paid for our tickets we opted to hire a guide to instruct us around site. She was a very nice lady, dressed in traditional garb and informed us that she had visited London and Birmingham last year while on a lecture tour. Despite this we had no problems in understanding her. The Museum is dedicated to Confucius and his teaching, and it is because of this that all teachers in Vietnam are revered. It was at this point we told her we were teachers. She was suitable in awe. Nice. Luckily for us it was the end of term for the schools and the complex was full of colourfully dressed children and older students who were graduating. There were many groups clustered around having their photos taken, all smiling broadly and shouting their Hello’s to us when we were spotted.

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Our guide took around an hour to explain all the exhibits and the meaning of all the artifacts, and it was genuinely interesting. After she left us we did the usual school trip ‘thing’ and went into the museum shop. We did buy a few things there and of course Sue haggled the price down from cheap to near starvation level for the family relying on its profits.

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After a short trip around the Royal Lake on the opposite side of the road we headed back to the hotel. The traffic had increased considerably from our outward journey and we had to be extra careful in staring down moped riders and gave  the impression that in any collision by an Eastern scooter on a Western torso was going to be curtains for the mechanical polluter.
Back at the hotel we packed and I showered and then read a bit of the local English newspaper. Our pick-up for the airport was for 1pm and we were in the Reception for 12.10pm. The driver came at 12.45pm and with luggage stowed in the boot we set off on the 40 minute journey to the airport.
As we were early for our 3.55pm flight we sat in the restaurant and had a bit of lunch, then looked around the gift shops. The flight took off on time and lasted an hour. This time our baggage was first off the belt and as soon as we left the Arrivals Hall we were met by our driver. The journey to Hoi An took around 40 minutes starting first by driving through Da Nang and then taking the coast road until we reached our hotel the Boutique Hoi An Resort. I guess it is a middle-sized hotel that after checking in and being shown our room seemed quite acceptable for its 5 stars.
We didn’t unpack a s the light was failing and we were eager to explore. A walk through the grounds towards the beach brought back memories of the Regent Cha’ am in Thailand for both of us. The little twinkling lights of the fishing boats on the horizon that would shine their neon lights onto the sea all night to attract their catch to the surface shone between the palm trees fringing the white sandy shore. We dipped our toes in the water before returning to the reception via the swimming pool that still had a few late swimmers ploughing up and down, I needn’t tell you their nationality. We checked out the bar and the very small tourist shop before continuing outside and over the road to scan the little businesses that always seem to hug the entrances to large Asian hotels. Again that reminded us of the village outside the grounds of the Regent and the little restaurants we used to frequent. We returned to the hotel.

Freshening up we decided to eat reminisce and eat in the village. We chose a restaurant that had a couple already dining in it. Always a good ploy as it often means that the food is ok or at the very worst you are not the only ones to suffer from food poisoning and the thus the authorities are more likely to take notice. As always the owner was beckoning us even before we had crossed the road. By the time we had chosen and ordered our drinks and food we had been joined by other tourists of a like mind.
While we were eating a street hawker descended on us with a basket of wares. She was very polite and quietly and methodically showed us all she had in her basket without fuss, and when we displayed disinterest in an item she put it away and tried another. I bought a little lacquered tooth-pick container from her for 2 pounds and as I said to Sue afterwards, it’s not because I wanted the holder it was because that small amount of money would make a big difference to her evening. The meal of fresh pineapple juice, two draft beers, a dish of sweet and sour shrimp, two bowls of rice, a bowl of french fries and a dish of chicken and lemon grass came to 12 pound. Very little to affluent Europeans but I can’t imagine how important such a small amount is to the lives of these Vietnamese. They are a very polite, gentle race that history has shown are not to be meddled with beyond reason.
After our meal we returned to the hotel and pressed some new pillows.

Vietnam 3

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2015 by David Palmer

There was a knock on the door at 7am. Sue was already in the shower and I was coming too from a night on the hardest mattress ever. Peeking through the cabin window I could see that the sea was flat calm, the spectacular islets  were still there and some of the boats that had shared our anchorage during the night were chugging their way to the next destination, disturbing the mirrored surface, causing the reflections of towers of tree covered limestone rocks to shiver as if to cast off the effects of sleep. Snap, snap a couple of photos taken and then into the shower myself.

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Breakfast  saw everyone seated in the main room and tucking into another large fayre of what could pass for an English breakfast, if you ignored the fruit and pancakes.
Donning life-jackets we all met up a again on board the cutter for a short scoot across the water to one of the near islands to see what was promised as being a very surprising cave. Hmmm, I thought, this is going to have to be special to surprise this little digger. Our journey turned out to be somewhat of a race with dozens of cutters from other boats appearing and vieing to bag the best route onto the small quay.
Stepping onto shore we lined up with those that beaten us and smirked at the less lucky who were piling up behind. It was incredibly sticky and I was looking forward to reaching the cool of the grotto, which after giving our tickets over to the man at the bottom of the steps, was soon reached by way of an entrance half way up the rock face.

I was mildly surprised by the first of three chambers, as the route had been well paved (though naturally slippy) and well-lit. I took a few photos. The second chamber was intriguing as you reached it through a narrow slit and it opened out suddenly into a vast chamber of colours. I took a few more photos as we wound our way down onto the floor of the cave, then I realised that once there, you could see that our entrance was through a bulge in the wall and the cave stretched behind and under our entry point. When we reached the third and last chamber it was big, awesomley huge. Photographs would not have captured its immensity so I switched to video and panned across the scene that stretched out below and to both sides. Surprised? Yes, and yet again when we reached the floor of the cave when after some ten minutes walking we turned a corner and there again it receded into the distance, and then again. And what is the name of this system? The Surprise Cave. Enough said!

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Returning to the cutter we scooted back to the boat and as instructed packed our bags and went to the main in room to check out. This meant settling our bar bill, which it gives me great pleasure in pointing out that Sue’s portion was greater than mine! We lounged around on the decks for a while the boat meandered its way back to Halong Bay Quay.  During the latter stages we were treated to a vegetable flower making lesson by the chef. Of course he made it look easy, but I guess if we attempted it, Sunday lunch would have to be started on a Saturday.

It was with genuine misgivings that we disembarked. We had thoroughly enjoyed our time on board, much of which doesn’t appear in this blog. If ever we return we shall do the 7 day cruise around the whole island system.
One footnote; on return, as we were making our way between the islands, we came across a pile of garbage that had obviously been recently jettisoned by one of the cruise boats. Plastic and food waste was slopping about on the waves and would no doubt become washed up onto the craggy islands, impossible to remove  without great expense and effort. What a shame, I hope the Vietnamese do not spoil this treasure.

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Before boarding the bus to return to Hanoi we were treated to a another very substantial meal at a restaurant across from the quay. I have found that I have a taste for squid, particularly when I cover it in the very spicy red condiment that appears on the table. Sue is worried that I as a fish lover I have yet to touch the fish that accompanies every meal. I haven’t yet pointed out that Vietnamese fish is very bony (but tasty) and squid is not.

The return journey was quite a bumpy one due to the fact that the carriageway on the way there was new, but the return has yet to be renovated and full of ‘surprise’ potholes. We had a brief stop at the same way station as the journey there  and this time the only things bought was an ice lolly and a postcard and we were first back on the bus.
Sue showered when we returned and then we set off down the Hang Doa Road for a spot ofshopping. We started by having drinks on the corner by our favourite kamikazee roundabout, and again watched the near carnage unfold, before hitting the shops in earnest. We returned to the hotel several hours later without any goods. Sue was looking for a ‘thin’ top to buy and neither of us could have predicted ow difficult that would have been. Now Sue is not a big lady, yet compared to the average Vietnamese woman she is a veritable giant! I lost count of the number of shops we entered and rustled through racks of clothes to find one that looked as if it would fit. One limiting factor was that when Sue asked to try an item on, the answer was always no. However, the Vietnamese shopkeepers are very honest, several times they stopped us considering certain items as they indicated they were too small. So no sale was made.Returning empty handed to the hotel, we checked up on the time for the next days transfer to the airport and was pleased to hear it was a reasonable 1pm, then we  changed for dinner and ventured out once again.

We chose another restaurant on the roundabout, but this time opposite our usual. Again, high enough to look down on the entertainment. Tonight we had three guest acts of balloon sellers who suicidally stood in the middle of the traffic vending their wares. What fun we had eating our meal. I would recommend this to anyone visiting Hanoi as a must do tourist attraction.
Afterwards, we braved the traffic back to the hotel and bed. We have honed our dodging skills on the streets of Hanoi, but we have yet to pass the real test: Saigon (Ho Ch Minh City). Where we are reliably told by fellow travellers the traffic is twice as bad. Ooooooooooooooooooooooerrrrrrr!

Vietnam 2

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2015 by David Palmer

I woke at 6am showered, packed my rucksack and then Sue woke. By 6.30am we were in breakfast, surprised to see so many people already seated and eating. What we hadn’t known was that the hotel next door, was attached to ours and they shared restaurant facilities. We sat at table with a couple from Reading, called Jenny and Ron, they remembered us from the flight and we hit it off straight away, they had such an easy going manner.
After breakfast we returned to our room, sorted ourselves out then Sue sat in the reception while I wandered down the lane to take a few photos of the Vietnamese having breakfast in the street. When I returned Jenny and Ron were also waiting for our mini-bus pick-up to Halong Bay. On time, we were ushered by our guide for the next two days down the same lane I had just photographed and boarded a bus with 6 other passengers.
The journey through the Vietnamese countryside was to take 3 hours with a brief stop for toilet and refreshments, luckily our necessity stop was at a retail outlet for artwork and jewellery and Sue took the opportunity to purchase some Vietnamese silkwork. She insisted that one of the seamstresses finished it off by embroidering Vietnam into the picture. This took a while and I am afraid our fellow passengers had to wait. How annoying that has been in the past!

When we arrive at Halong Bay City we disembarked and then boarded a small  Tender which took us to our boat for the next two days. We were given cabin Number 1, and it proved to be rather nice. After settling in we then made our way to the  main room and sat with the rest of the guests  and had lunch. There was plenty of it and very local, squid, Halong Bay fish etc. As we ate we passed through some very beautiful scenery. Thousands of small islands with limestone cliffs rising vertically from the sea, mostly covered in vegetation. The subject of millions of posters and postcards. Too beautiful to describe, you have to see it. It truly is an awe-inspiring place.

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We  cruised past the place where the Top Gear filmed a Christmas episode of their road journey and they sunk a car or two in the Bay. So it was not as remote as they had us believe!
We anchored near a small island that possessed a Panoramic Viewpoint and a small beach and took the Tender to reach it. First we climbed the mountain to take the views. Judge for yourself with the enclosed pictures. Then returning to sea level I went for a swim in the sea. Two young playful Vietnamese ladies seemed to want to play a game of splash the european,  and I reciprocated, much to their enjoyment,

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The group gathered together and rode the Tender back to the boat only to briefly drop off those that were not kayaking around the bay. Sue was keen to go but I persuaded her not to as I feared that if we capsized she would not be able to get back into the kayak. I doubted that I could have helped a one handed capsizee to pull herself back in.
I partnered the guide (Hung), and we led the other three canoes around the islands passing through sea caves and between vertical cliffs. Very enjoyable and we were too soon back on board relating our adventure. The first cold glass of beer back on board went down really well after such enjoyable activity.

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After showering and a change of clothes we had drinks on the upper deck, admired the scenery and chatted before returning to the main room and all ten of the passengers were instructed on how to make Vietnamese Spring Rolls by the chef. Not difficult as all the ingredients had been prepared for us, but fun non-the-less. they were taken away to be cooked and constitute part of the evening meal.  We relocated to the top deck again to chat and have a few more drinks.

The meal was lovely and again very substantial, though we had made so many Spring Rolls, not all got eaten. Happy hour ensued with cocktails being buy-one-get-one-free. I stuck to beer but Sue had 2 Crouching Tigers. I watched the first one being made and it consisted of quite a few complex ingredients and procedure to make a tall drink that looked like a green pond water with wriggling tadpoles. However, Sue assured me that it tasted nice and I wa prepared to believe her.
The rest of the evening we spent dangling lines off the front of the boat in an attempt to catch squid. One squid, two small fish and a jellyfish were caught. Though not by line but in a net. Yes things did start to get a bit silly but no one fell over board and Sue did persevere with the traditional method longer than anyone else. I had long since moved onto the unsuccessful harpoon method. The evening was finished off back around the bar before the mattress was pressed.

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Vietnam 1

Posted in Uncategorized on May 9, 2015 by David Palmer

Our flight took off a little late as there appeared to be so many BA flights stacked up before us, and surprisingly as UKIP had failed to deliver in the election, the nationalistic fervour of Air traffic control ensured that British planes pounded down the runway first before the foreigners.
The flight was a good one.  It was less than half full, so there was plenty of spare seats. The food was plentiful and of a reasonable quality that it all got scoffed. The inflight entertainment was mediocre to bad, the aircraft was so old (their new ones arrive the middle of 2015) that it must have been a decade ago that we have had to wait for a film to cycle through before you could watch it and sadly we had seen most of them. Sue watched Paddington, I watched 3/4 of The Hobbit before my system died.  On the good side, the 12 hrs seemed to whizz by with just annoying interludes to wake me up to eat or drink.
We appeared to be the only plane docked in at Hanoi Airport, yet the baggage seemed to take ages to appear and then ours, of course, was one of the last. Our journey through immigration with our passports already stamped with expensive visas, as supplied by the Vietnamese Embassy in London, went smoothly. As planned, we were met by our driver who I luckily spotted holding my name plate in the air and we were soon heading off to our hotel. It had been a little worry as the hotel originally booked had been full and I had to accept another smaller Boutique hotel at a late stage. However, at least the transfer worked. The journey took quite a while and we were surprised to find that our hotel was situated in the old town and down such a narrow street that the car couldn’t get to it. I was impressed when we stopped,  the hotel porters were there to take our luggage from us and they wheeled it down the street. The La Beaute Hanoi Hotel is a small hotel and in a spot on location for the sights and markets. Our room is at the top of the hotel and is so pretty that it makes up for the disappointing view of the ‘not so nice’ rooftops of Hanoi. The staff fell over to be friendly and helpful and made us feel at ease straight away (sound like a trip advisor review). We have air-con!

After a quick unpack and change into shorts etc. we had a quick look at the supplied map and decided to have a look at Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of Hanoi and just a short stroll away. Experienced on the streets of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpar we were not surprised by the 10 million mopeds, a complete of road sense by all and choking road pollution. We gingerly made our way to the shores of the lake without too much mishap. The trick is, when you decide to cross, do it, don’t stop, do it slowly and eye the opposition. Dare them to run you over and risk a multi-million western law suit and you will get there, most times.

The lake is pretty and has a temple in the middle reached by wooden bridge. You pay 30 000 Dong to cross it, and that equates to 90p in proper money. The views of the city from the temple are quite nice, though one couldn’t argue that Hanoi is a stunner. With the pace of development it will get there, but I guess being Napalmed by the Americans back to the stone-age was going to have an effect on its looks. The Temple is a tribute to a 15C King by the name of Le, apparently he threw a golden sword into the lake and large turtles carry it around on their back from time to time. People have been looking for it for centuries, but only turtles appear to know where it is. Hence the turtle worshipping.

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We carried on around the lake and came across a modern statue of this past ruler. We sat in the heat and pondered for a while before moving onto the southern end of the lake and stopped for a couple of coconut drinks. They came supplied with straws and long handled spoon (not seen that before) and we gouged out some of the coconut flesh and ate it after sipping the cool milk, very sweet. We consulted our map while we drank and decided to find the local gaol.
Hoalo Prison wasn’t too far away and after another 30 000 Dongs we entered. The French had built it, and during their control of it, were not very nice to the Vietnamese. The use of the guillotine was very popular. They must have been rubbish guards as, it seems plenty of inmates managed to escape, but in balance they also stacked it as full as it could be. Ironically when the French were kicked out, afterwards the Vietnamese found it very handy in housing the downed American puilots during their little psat in the 70’s. They called it the Hanoi Hilton, a sign of the different treatment meted out to its inmates (so the locals say). It is a fascinating place to visit packed full of history and propaganda. I bought a hat in the souvenir shop.

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Eager for more history we next found St. Joseph’s Cathedral. A large impressive building that obviously has not been used in many a decade and I guess will be left to fall to the ground some time in the future, that’s what you get when political dogma rules the roost, and a lack of christians. Again, ironically outside the railings of the building was a wedding couple having their photo taken with the Cathedral as a backdrop.  I can’t work that one out.

We wandered our way back to the shores of the lake. Visited another temple with a 600 year old poem carved into a large stone tablet which seemed to be solely about insurrection and politics, it looks like they have been practising for quite some time. The French and Americans should have boned up on their Vietnamese history before upsetting them. Making our way back through the traffic, we decided to have drinks on the balcony of a 6th story restaurant and watch the traffic mayhem below. We fund this so absorbing that we ordered more drinks and was promptly rewarded with a coming together of two heavy laden mopeds and a scattering of goods over the carriageway below. Exciting stuff. Luckily no one was injured and the two combatants seemed to be stoical about it and helped each other right their vehicles and carefully place all the items back on their precarious perches. Oblivious of the continuing mayhem around.

We returned to the hotel and air-con. I had a shower and Sue had a nap, then she washed her hair. As we waited for it to dry I also had a little nap. I was woken from my slumber by a Skype call from David in Bulgaria, he and Genya had just returned from shopping at the market in Dryanova. We chatted for a while on an excellent connection (he sounded as i f he could have been in the next room) and then completed the call as the last strand of Sue’s hair crisped up.
All spruced up we braved the crowds and mopeds of Hanoi once again. It was now dark and there was no let up in the hooting, peeping and put-put-put-belch of moped exhausts, though the riders did seem to be more confident in the dark as I am sure they were all travelling faster.
We found a restaurant on the Hang Dao Road, which also happened to house the city’s night market at the weekends. We were the only diners in the restaurant, but it was early for the Asians to eat. Sue had chicken and I had Catfish and both went down well. Afterwards we headed off down one side of the street market, determined to reach the end and return via the opposite side.  We did it, but we hadn’t considered how long the road was going to be. It was long, very long. Junction after junction was crossed with more twinkling bright lights and colourful stalls full of all sorts of necessary and unnecessary items. Some of which we looked at and thought about, and then left. We had a breath of hope that the market was coming to an end when we came across a folk group singing under a very large statue watched by an equally large crowd. We listened a while, to Sue it sounded nice, to me it was as if a cat was being dragged across a metal dustbin, frantically trying to get some purchase with its claws, and that was just the musicians. The singer, pretty though she was, swayed rythmically with a beat I couldn’t fathom and smiling, screeched her way through some folk tale or other. I guess the Americans heard a lot of this when they napalmed them in the 70’s.

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Several junctions further on we indeed find the last stall. It was selling remnants from the Battle of the Big Horn and Custer’s last stand (I think). Returning the way we came, avoiding the alley cat singing band we eventually returned to our starting point. The return was made easy as by now most of Hanoi had turned up and one just had to lift ones feet off the ground to be swept along in a tide of humanity. Back at the hotel we packed our small bags for tomorrows overnight foray to Halong Bay before pressing the pillows.