A ‘sort of’ Kiwi Connection (Quy Nhon)

Posted by Julia: 

So, after 6 days we finally decided it was time to make a break from Hoi An (before breaking our bank balances) and continue the move South. We booked soft seater air con train tickets from Hoi An to Quy Nhon and hoped to spend the day watching country life out the window of the train, relaxing, listening to music and reading our books.

WELL…. that was a bit optimistic as the air con carriages come with ‘entertainment’ Vietnamese style. We got to watch a variety show type thing on TV’s with music blaring from speakers along the ceiling of the train… it was so noisy we couldn’t sleep, read OR listen to our MP3 players. So instead Megan entertained the little 5 year old boy sitting behind us (he was a cutie and obviously so chuffed to be playing with foreigners), we played cards for a bit and basically just ‘waited out’ the 5 hour journey trying not to let the music stress us out too much!

We arrived at Quy Nhon, a little town off the beaten track that was recomended to us by a Kiwi and Ozzie that had a ball there. There are a few Kiwi connections to Quy Nhon as there are a number of NZers volunteering in the area. We stayed at a place called ‘Barbaras Backpackers’ (run by a Kiwi called Barbara) and our first stop was dinner at the ‘Kiwi Cafe’.  I must say,after the Kiwi pub in Halong Bay the Kiwi Cafe in Quy Nhon was a bit disappointing – not an iota of kiwi paraphenalia anywhere and the only ‘kiwi’ food on the menu was home baking, scones, fish and chips and vegemite.  Having said that, vegemite is technically Australian and the jar that was provided with my bagette expired in Feb 2007 and had a thick layer of dust on the lid!  Oh well, it was a nice treat (Marmite is disgusting, Vegemite rocks!).

 Quy Nhon - Boats along the beach

So… in the morning we decided to take a walk along the beach – now that was an exprience in itself (poor Megs took an hour or two to recover)… there is an area that is very poor in the middle section of the beach where the government has tried to relocate the people against their will and has knocked down the ‘illegal’/unregistered buildings.   The people haven’t moved and are simply squatting in the rubble… it seriously looked like a disaster zone. We felt uncomfortable walking along the street so I decided we should walk along the beach front…. not a good idea at all. Two minutes walking along the water I saw a girl going for her morning poo near the waters edge – I looked around and saw that we were actually walking though the town toilet… this explained the terrible smell (along with the rotting fish) and needless to say we left Quy Nhon as quickly as we could!

We legged it to the train station, the only seats we could get were hard seats with fan (in the scheme of things this really didn’t matter). Believe it or not it was a lot more relaxing than the air con variety show entertainment train experience the day before!!! We had a great time being stared at, playing cards, playing with the kids, checking out the live chicken sitting in the seat next to us, talking (sort of) to the locals and just watching the world go by. We are now in Nha Trang, a nice beach town about 3/4 down the length of Vietnam – we have found a room with a sea view, balcony, pool and free internet for $15US a night. We have discovered a bar down the road that sells 2 yummy cocktails for $3.50 NZ (thats for 2 cocktails!). Tomorrow we plan to spend the day on the beach working on our tans while we get food and cocktails delivered to our deck chairs….. bliss…. watch this space!

Oh and before I forget, we hit a new motorbike record today: we spotted 2 adults and 3 kids on the one motorbike!  The previous record was 2 adults 2 kids.  

My Son (a day trip from Hoi An)

While in Hoi An we decided to take a break from the temptation of clothes shopping and see some sights. So we booked a ‘sunrise’ tour to see My Son, Vietnam’s most important centre of the ancient kidom of Champa, dates back from the 4th Century to the 13th centuray and is now a world UNESCO heritage site. We left the hotel at 5am expecting to see sunrise over the ruins – unfortunatly the sun was well and truely up by the time we arrived (grrr… talk about false advertising) but it was lovely to walk around the ruins with a small group in the relative coolness of the morning. The My Son complex has been divided into several main groups and have been given boring scientific names like Group A, Group B…etc. We spent most of the time in Group B) as it is in pretty good condition. The others were a little bit worse for wear due to being destroyed either by the American bombing during the US War/Vietnam War or natural means (the weather). They have been doing a good job to restore what they can of the ruins and it was an interesting break from shopping!

Here are some photos of My Son:

My SonMy Son My Son

My SonMy SonMy Son - a shell from the war next to some ancient ruinsMy Son

Hoi An …cont…

(posted by Megan): 

As Ju has already pointed out, we fell in love with Hoi An! The city has a really friendly feel to it and is full of delightful cafes, hundreds of tailors, souvenir shops, art galleries, shoe shops and craft shops. We spent hours being measured for clothes and have both bought new wardrobes (including winter coats, shirts, skirts, suits, pj’s, shorts…etc). I sent home 14kgs and Julia sent 10kgs to her Dad in Thailand. Given that our packs only weighed 12kgs each we did go a little crazy.  

Our pile of new clothes Megan and her tailor Julia and the tailors

To be fair, we did TRY to do walking tour one day to take in a bit of the history of the town and see some temples…..but…. we got distracted half way by the pretty clothes and consequently abandoned the walking tour to go shopping! Ooops

Another one of the great things about Hoi An is the food. There are a couple of local dishes that we tried, Cau Lao – a doughy flat noodle dish with bean sprouts and herbs topped off with smoked pork slices. The cool thing about Cao Lau is that for it to be ‘official’ the water has to come from the local well which dates from Cham times. We also tried White Rose – a delicious prawn dumpling… yum yum yum.

While in Hoi An we decided to give a cooking class a go. Although Julia was a bit nervous (she thinks she is a crap cook) we thought it might be fun. So we turned up at one of the local cafes at 8am, split into small groups to take a tour of the market, Our leader was a full trickster, his name was Phi and he spoke excellent English with a very strong Aussie accent (despite having never been to Australia or New Zealand). Phi took us around the Hoi An market introducing us to fruit and vegetables, herbs, rice, seafood and fish sauce commonly used in Vietnamese cooking.

 Our teacher (Megan’s latest not so secret admirer) The market

After the market, we jumped in a boat and cruised down the river to the cooking school where we had a fun filled morning making all sorts of delicious dishes. At the end of our cooking session we had a go at food making some some food decoration art (a tomato rose and a cucumber fan). That was a bit of a laugh but we both did quite well!

Our vegetable decorations Julia and Megan at cooking school

For more details about the course we did check out: www.visithoian.com/redbridge.html So after cooking school we went for a wander, went back to our tailiors for a fitting and then had dinner at the cafe where the cooking school is based. Phi (who like most of the Vietnamese guys) had taken a liking to me, asked if we’d like to play some pool after he finished work at 9pm. We said we’d like to and then he disappeared for a wee while. When he came back he surprised me with a carving of a rabbit made out of carrot. It was really sweet. He had a real crush on me!Megan’s Rabbit 

We went to the pub to play some pool.   We played pool for a bit, then some of the other guys from the cooking school joined us…. in the end I had 3 of them all vying for my attention! The Vietnamese guys seem to genuinely really like me, its quite cool to be the center of attention (I feel like a princess). Poor Ju though, she was just ignored and consequently got a bit bored!  Oh well, she had her fun in Halong Bay!   ; )

A quick update from Hoi An

Hello all – I just wanted to post a quick update and let you all know where we are at.  We got a bit behind in the blogging for a while (as we are having so much fun) so we have only just posted about Hue. 

We are currently in Hoi An, an awesome little town (population 75,000) in the middle of Vietnam (down the coast).  Hoi An is pretty much a living museum as many buildings date from the first half of the 19th century (and older), it has a French/ Japanese/ Chinese/ Vietnamese feel to it and the architecture is amazing.   

We actually arrived on 23rd Aug and plan to stay at least another 2 days…. ‘why?’ I hear some of you ask.  Well…. not only is this place really friendly, cultural, charming and easy to get around – there is GREAT shopping!     Yep, Hoi An is full of dress makers that will make clothes tailored to your needs, consequently Megan and I have gone ‘a little nuts’ and got a new wardrobe each!   A trip to the post office is in order because we don’t really want to be lugging around an extra suitcase of clothes around Cambodia, Laos and Thailand!!!!  

We will post soon about what we have been up to in Hoi An…. in the mean time, bed for me as I need a good sleep before doing a cooking class tomorrow morning!

I hope everyone is fine and dandy – miss you all lots

Love Julia

Hue: A fire in our bathroom, Megans trip to the market and more

A joint effort (typed by Megan):

Our plans to get an overnight sleeper train from Ninh Binh to Hue were foiled as the sleepers were fully booked, so we opted for a bus. We were told the bus would be air con and that there would only be tourists and rich Vietnamese on board. So much for that. We were the ONLY tourists, the air con was pathetic and we were jammed into tiny uncomfortable seats for what turned out to be a mammoth 11 hour trip.  

Believe me – a combination of the heat, the kamikaze bus driving style (which includes frequent use of the horn and driving on both sides of the road) and the space restriction meant very little sleep.  We arrived into Hue at 8.30am exhausted, and thankfully the hotel allowed us to check in early.  I promptly collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep while Ju went for a wander around the town and woke me up at 12pm.  I was feeling in much better spirits so I left her to have a nap while I went for a walk.  I came back and began reading my book (Ju was sound asleep).  About 5 mins into my book I could smell something burning…..’that’s odd’ I thought – and continued to read my book. 

Then the smell got stronger and I could hear flames flickering.  I opened the door from our hotel room into the hall way – nothing.   I turned around and opened the bathroom door. I could see bright orange flames and a thick black smoke engulfed the room.   No such thing as a fire alarm here, so I did the next best thing and screamed for help.  HELP HELP HELP.  I was absolutely hysterical.  Within seconds, 6 Vietnamese Hotel staff were on the scene trying to work out what was going on (they thought there was an intruder in the room), thankfully the neighbor behind the hotel had heard my screams and began pouring water on the flames from the building next door. 

It turns out there was an electrical fault with the bathroom fan. Any later raising the alarm bells and I reckon the whole hotel would have burnt down.  I guess that is one way to get a room upgrade!

Fire in the bathroom! The bathroom was on fire!

After recovering from the drama of the fire, we hired a couple of cyclo drivers to take us around the citadel. The citadel has a moated 10 kilometer perimeter and is reached via bridges across the moat. The flag tower in front is 37 meters high – the tallest in Vietnam. We felt a bit guilty making them peddle around two heifer lump Westerners but it was a relaxing way to see the city. We took lots of photos of the impressive Imperial Enclosure, including the Ngo Mon Gate, Thai Hoa Palace, Halls of the Mandarins, Nine Dynastic Urns and To Mieu Temple.

Lots of photos:

Cyclos in Hue Citidel Megan at the temple Dragon at temple

Football Kites Megan on a cyclo Hue - flagpole Julia at temple complex

Dinner was in a Vietnamese restaurant, where a group of musicians were performing traditional Vietnamese folk songs (rather lovely I got the CD).  

The next morning, we hired a charter boat to take us along the Perfume River to see the Thien Mu Pagoda and to work on our tans….. (yep a bit of sun burn there oopsies). Like the embroidery boat in Tam Coc we got the hard sell when there was nowhere to run (see photo).

Julia shopping on the boat

 It is impossible to walk down the street in Hue without being pursued by “Hello Cyclo” & “Hello Moto-bike” & “Where you from? Where you go?” Walking with 3 or 4 of them in hot pursuit can be quite taxing when you have to politely refuse them 100 million times! After our boat ride, it was too hot to walk anywhere so I decided to jump on a motorbike to brave the Dong Ba market, while Ju opted to chill out in a café with a cold drink.  

Turns out the market was one of the more stressful experiences of the trip (so far). My simple trip to the market was an exercise in tragic comedy.  All I wanted to do was wander up and down the stalls, but the local Hue-ians wouldn’t take no for an answer and I had a Vietnamese women chasing me around trying to get me to buy a fan for $10NZ….Ju had paid $1 for one the day before so I wasn’t even going to barter on that one! I lasted less than 30 minutes before speeding off on the back of a motor bike back to the “safety” of the hotel. To top it all off the motorbike driver wanted the equivalent $32NZ (for my trip around the block) I sighed, smiled sweetly, told him he was cheeky, gave him $5 USD and walked off!

A trip to the Vietnamese countryside (Ninh Binh)

After our (second) brief stop in Hanoi, we decided to start heading south, so we jumped on a train and headed to the sleepy town called ‘Ninh Binh’.  There isn’t much to do in Ninh Binh itself, but it is close to many great sights, so we stayed for 2 nights so we could check them out. Ninh Binh is really rural, it wasn’t uncommon to see a buffalo pulling a trailer down the main streets among the multitudes of motorbikes, bicylces and cards and trucks!
 
The train to Ninh Binh was a great way to see some of the countryside. It was full of locals (who liked to stare but were not very talkative), had no air conditioning and had a resident giant cockroach doing the rounds.  On arrival in Ninh Binh we checked into our hotel and decided it was a bit too flash for us so I went for a walk to find something a bit cheaper while Megan had a snooze in the nice air conditned hotel room.  Naturally I was too stubborn (or chicken?) to get a motorcycle so to much amusment of the locals spent the next 30-40 mins walkng around in the 37c + heat!!!  Silly silly girl….  Once I had found us a new hostel I caved and had my first motorcycle ride back to the hotel (holding on for dear life) to get out of the heat.  
 
On our first full day in Ninh Binh we went on a tour organised by the hotel which was very good value for money as we got a driver and a guide for the day (to ourselves) and checked out many of the sites in the area.   First we went to the Kenh Ga Floating Village where we got to see ‘real’ river life with a beautiful mountain backdrop.  The river life was very rural, the people were quite poor and were just going about thier daily life (fishing, harvesting river grass, trawalling for shellfish, doing thier washing in the river…etc).  The people were lovely, smiling and waving hello at us.  
 
Kenh Ga Floating Village Kenh Ga Floating Village Kenh Ga Floating Village
 
After an hour or so on the boat we hopped off and went for a walk to a cave.  It was stinking hot, so once we got to the entrance of the cave we had a rest in the shade, had some much needed water and Megan made a new friend.  Megans friend was a 71 year old woman who was quite taken with her and wouldn’t leave her alone (talking away in Vietnamese and touching her skin every 5 mins).  It was quite amusing!  The cave was nice (our 3 or 4th cave in Vietnam), it wasn’t lit up so we needed torches and it made a nice break from the heat.

The walk to the cave
 
After Kenh Ga Floating Village we checked out the Bich Dong Pagoda – a series of temples on the side of a hill, one of them built into a cave.  It was quite peaceful and rather pretty:
 
The Pagoda
 
We also went to Tam Coc which is an area that looks lovely and you go in a row boat though 3 caves on the Ngo Dong River.  Its a bit of a laugh really, you pay for the boat ride (which due to the number of boats cruising up the river feels like a Disneyland ride), they pick up a ‘helper’ who ‘helps’ row the boat.  You get to the other end and spend lots of money on drinks and nibbles (shouting your driver and his helper as they have been rowing for the last hour) and then on the way back the ‘helper’ pulls out the embroidery and gives you the hard sell when there is nowhere to run!.  I caved in and bought my poppa a table cloth, Megan stuck to her guns and consequently ended up rowing home while the ‘helper’ put her feet up.   Nice one! That will teach her for being tight!
 
Tam Coc - the disneyland like cruise up the river Tam Coc
 
 
The second day from our new hostel we hired a driver who took us to Cuc Phuong National Park.  The (non-english speaking) driver was a hoot and thought Megan was hillarious (as you would when some strange Westener makes animal noises and jokes around all the time).  He took us though to the National Park via acres and acres of pineapple plantations, we went for a walk to the Cave of the Prehistoric Man (up a lot of steps) and then much to our protest put us on a 8km walk in the jungle to see a 1000 year old tree. 
We had clearly told him no walking as we wanted to swim and relax but he tricked us telling us there was a pool/lake for swimming around the corner!   By the time we worked out we had been tricked it was too late.  Oh well, I got to hug a 1000 year old tree, get bitten by mozzies, see a crab in the jungle (weird) and a few big spiders.   

Megan and her new Vietnamese boyfriend (in his staunch pose) The 1000 year old tree
 
After our walk the driver greated us with a big smile (he’d obviously been napping for the 2.5 hours while we walked), he took us to the promised pool (which hadn’t been cleaned in years because it was the colour of dirty river water) and we went for a swim.  I was obviously dilarious from trekking in the 35 degree heat as I would normally never ever ever swim in such a manky pool (it was pretty bad, don’t worry Mum I didnt put my head under).
 
After the swim the driver negotiated entry into the closed Endangered Primate Rescue Center so we got to see lots of monkeys and learn about the programme to try and save several endangered species (very cool). On the drive back we encountered a herd of buffalos on the road. The driver thought we were nuts when we motioned for him to stop so we could lean out the window and take photos. We arrived back to Ninh Binh to wait for the ‘tourist bus’ that would take us to Hue. We sat around in the Hotel lobby playing cards with the locals and making them laugh with our crazy antics.

Buffalos on the main road to Ninh Binh Buffalos from the rear window of the car

Uncle Ho

Posted by Megan: 

We got up early to head out to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex in Hanoi. We arrived at 7.30am to see a queue stretching for miles (no exaggeration).   Ju didn’t want to brave it so I joined the tail of the queue on my own while she went for a wander around the area. 

I felt really out of place as I didn’t see any foreigners….just hundreds of Vietnamese of all ages. There are strict rules to enter the Mausoleum, long sleeved clothes, no hats, no cameras and the people moved in an orderly straight line in the queue.  The queue moved very quickly as we shuffled through the complex.  It was interesting to see the deep respect and admiration the Vietnamese have for the man who is known for liberating the Vietnamese from colonialism. He is affectionately known as “Uncle Ho”. The guards dressed in white uniforms obviously took their job very seriously. Interestingly, the mausoleum is closed for 3 months of the year while Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed corpse goes to Russia for maintenance.

Afterwards I wandered through Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and Presidential Palace and gardens. We raced back to the hotel to go back out to the train station to get our 10am train to Ninh Binh.

Ho Chi Minh