Vietnam Round up

No prizes for guessing that we really enjoyed it! We spent almost a month there and will be back like a shot if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

The usual roundup’s been harder to write this time as there were so many good things it’s been difficult to group them.

GOOD

Hanoi and Hoi An

There’s something about these places that make you feel relaxed and at home. People are friendly and helpful so nothing seems like a chore. As John said earlier, the staff at the little Hanoi hostel are among the nicest people we’ve met on our travels and really couldn’t do enough for us. They treated us like friends and after China it was so welcome. I’d also like to give a special mention to our cookery teacher in Hoi An who was just adorable. Always smiling and chatting. Such genuine warmth radiated from all of them and our time in both places was an absolute pleasure.

Apart from being bustling, yet relaxed, there were some more obvious advantages in these places. We were not influenced by the lovely draught beer that only cost six pence a glass. We were also not at all interested in the perfectly tailored clothes we could buy in Hoi An to our own specifications at a quarter of the cost of high street clothes in Britain. Of course not, we would never be that shallow 😉 he he. OK, we’re human.

Butterflies

Any slightly green area was filled with the most beautiful and diverse butterflies you could imagine. Sometimes there were just clouds of them. Amazing.

Thunderstorms

They punctually appeared almost every evening about 5pm. For many people this might not seem greatest thing in the world but we really enjoyed it. There were so many sheltered areas you could sit with a beer and watch the lightening, it was very impressive. The only problem is that when it continues to rain too hard then you have to stay for another beer until it calms down a bit. What hardships we endure.

Children

For those that know us well this may seem a bit of a strange choice. I know that I’m never going to win the maternalistic woman of the year award. Children in Vietnam were well behaved and very friendly. At no time did we ever hear a child having a tantrum, screaming or crying. We saw only smiling faces waving and saying hello, almost all of them did this even if you were only walking by on the street. They were absolutely adorable.

Vietnam is just an interesting place

There’s just so much to see and do there. The American war is obviously of interest but there’s so much more to Vietnam than that. It’s a welcoming country that offers all the modern conveniences you might expect while maintaining a strong cultural and traditional identity. Traditional dress is routinely worn (and pyjamas strangely!), the old fashioned fruit and floating markets are fascinating and the architecture is interesting (either wooden stilted houses or old french style colonial buildings). As an outsider you are encouraged to visit more traditional areas of the country and to join in activities. It’s easy to arrange trips to almost anywhere and as it’s so cheap you can ask for a personalised guide if you’re interested in something less popular (like Cat Tien National Park). The public transport is also pretty decent so nowhere is out of bounds.

It’s just a great place to visit and we only have one major gripe this time:

Bad: Rip off merchants

Some people in Vietnam like to take advantage of tourists in vulnerable positions and try to charge you ridiculous prices for things. We always expect to pay a little ‘foreigner tax’ and don’t actually mind as long as it’s reasonable. In China or Laos locals are likely to round prices up to the nearest larger number. This might add about 20% or just over and we can live with that. In Vietnam some people will go for 500% or more of the local price, and refuse to allow you to haggle, they will not budge.

One of the more surprising places where this consistently happened was in the post offices. We were charged almost two pounds to send a single piece of paper to Japan and asked to pay around a pound to send each of our postcards, we know this is not the going rate. Other incidents were with taxi drivers who refused to use the meter, people trying to sell baguettes for three times the price you’d pay in waitrose, someone also tried to get John to pay $20 for a piece of rubber that might cost a couple of quid back home and of course there was the con of our minibus to Hanoi which was 600% of the local rate. It’s not that this would bankrupt us but we just don’t like being conned. Nobody does. Once you’re aware of this you can avoid it most of the time but it remained an irritant.

The last two distinctive things about Vietnam are firstly that it’s a country dominated by scooters and motorbikes, nobody walks even the shortest distance they’re all on those bikes! The second is the breathtakingly astonishing amount of weed being grown quite openly. It’s everywhere, you wouldn’t believe it!

That’s it for Vietnam, we would recommend it as somewhere to visit!

Guns and goats

Since Viv last wrote we’ve left Vietnam and now find ourselves in a the laid-back capital of Asia, Laos. We should fit right in!

And so to bring you up to date on our antics since Viv last wrote….

We left Saigon and headed back to the centre of Vietnam on a loooong sleeper train. Managed to somehow get a compartment all to ourselves, it all felt very decadent until the train food arrived – Vietnam has the worst train food I’ve ever experienced. Yes, worse than soggy British rail sandwiches with cucumber in them, eugh! It is at least free but probably because there would be riots if they tried to charge for it. It’s actaully quite a cunning ruse – give the passengers some horrible food for free and then come around with moderately nicer food that you have to pay for. You buy it just to remove the lingering horrible taste in your mouth that the free muck left you with.

We got off the train in Dong Ha and the following day went for a tour round various war sites in the DMZ on the back of motorbikes. It was great fun bezzing around on motorbikes and a great way to see the countryside and rural life too. Almost every group of children that we passed would wave at us and shout “Heellloooooo!!” and then collapse in a fit of giggles when you shout back “Sin Jow!” over the hum of the motorbike engine. It was quite surreal viewing the war remnants and junk as it is all very peaceful now. Trying to imagine this place as a barren expanse of land, home to nobody and with the whirr of B-52 bomber engines from above and explosions and gunfire on the ground was hard. It really didn’t seem like the same place that we had seen war photos of only a few days previously such is the extent that life and normality has returned to this area. There were only occasional reminders of the war that was so recently and intensely fought on these lands: a bullet scarred bunker, a ruined bridge, bomb craters, a tank shell.

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One thing you can certainly say about the Vietnamese is that they are an incredibly resourceful lot. To avoid having their villages razed by bombers they built an underground network of tunnels and living quarters that entire villages would live in, they lived in them for 6 years. Seeing the cramped and dingy conditions that they would have lived in at the Vinh Moc tunnels was a real eye-opener to the lengths that people will go to survive.

The tour was a lot of fun and our guide was great for adding a bit context; he was a South Vietnamese veteran who spent 5 years at a ‘re-education camp’ after the war ended along with our guesthouse owner. We’d recommend the DMZ cafe in Dong Ha and their DMZ tour – the rooms are cheap and clean and the tour was fun.

There’s nothing much else of any interest in Dong Ha so we took a bus to the Laos border the very next day. The journey to the border was a little hairy at times, the driver seemingly deriving his driving ‘talents’ rather too much from the Indian school of vehicle pilotry. We made it to the border safely and getting through border security was a breeze – the most lax border crossing we’ve been to yet for sure which is great for us as it means no hassle and less queues.

The bus journey on the other side was an interesting experience too. The passenger bus also doubles as a goods truck and it seemed there was as much produce crammed on to it as you would usually be able to fit in a reasonable sized truck – sacks of potatoes stacked 3 high in the aisle, boxes under our feet and all sorts piled high on the roof. Not too soon after we had set off we realised that this bus probably wasn’t quite so dangerous as it first appeared being that it never got above 30mph and the roads were very good with barely another soul on them.

The bus journey really made us realise just what a difference a border makes. Almost all of the houses along the way were of the traditional wooden-stilted type and their inhabitants seemed largely non-plussed about tending to their arid and parched fields, instead choosing to sit/lie around chatting or sleeping. Laos only has a population of 6 million and we reckon there are probably more goats here than there are people, at least going by our 6 hour bus journey here – there’s shit loads of them! We both like goats – very comical looking creatures. If we ever have a lawn again we reckon that a goat is the order of day for keeping the grass short rather an lawn-mower. It would surely enhance our lives with many a comedy-caper to be had chasing the goat down the road and appeasing Mildred at number 32 when the goat had escaped and eaten all of her begonias, again.

We arrived in Savannakhet last night, the southern capital of Laos but with more of a small town feel to it, at about 7. About all there was time for last night was an gorgeous Thai-influenced meal and a Beer Laos by the Mekong looking over to the bright lights of Thailand on the other side. We’re looking forward to exploring the rest of Laos, it seems a really chilled out and fun place to be.

Until next time,
John

Ho Chi Minh City (or is it Saigon?)

It’s supposed to be HCMC but none of the locals actually use it and prefer Saigon. Ho Chi Minh was a hero of North Vietnam and it wouldn’t surprise me if the persistent use of the name ‘Saigon’ is part of the North-South divide that still clearly exists in Vietnam. Our guide from Cat Tien National Park, Dao, blames it on French colonial ‘divide and conquer’ tactics, obviously the American war wouldn’t have helped either!! Who knows? It’s clearly very different down here compared to the North, the people are far less relaxed and the pace of life and streets seem more akin to China than Hanoi.

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Saigon is huge. I think it has 8 million inhabitants, most have migrated here from the countryside since the war ended in 1975. Virtually all of the buildings on the outskirts have sprouted up since then. It’s thriving and industrialising with break-neck rapidity. Just like China again!

Since our rather less than optimal first morning here we’ve enjoyed it much more. Our temporary home is a tiny and shabby room above the Gon cafe on one of the main backpacker streets. Tiny and shabby it may be but, blimey, not sure if the air is drugged but we sleep so well in there. In truth it’s quiet and the bed is comfortable. The great thing about the Gon cafe is the food is the cheapest and nicest around and the internet is really fast. This place makes the most excellent STRONG (‘oh yeah!’ She says rebounding from the walls) coffee milkshakes. Gon cafe rules!

We’ve really used Saigon as a base to travel out from and so have spent most of our spare time here milling about eating,drinking and sitting at computers. We made a point of visiting the War remnants museum though. Before we entered the museum we wern’t really thinking too much about what we might discover there. Even though we’d seen a fair few people with deformities (usually the legs, feet, arms and hands) from the evil Agent Orange, Vietnam has bounced back and got on with life. Most of you will already know so apologies in advance: Agent orange is the dioxin used to destroy the vegetation cover of the Viet Cong. It was sprayed in huge quantities by the US Air force. It was strange to walk around Cat Tien National Park where the outskirts were less than 30 years old after being totally destroyed in the war. It would make an interesting ecological study to see how much residue from Agent Orange still exists there and how it has affected the recovery of the plant life……..Yawn, OK, I’ll stop it.

Anyway, recovering from the tangent I’ll tell you about the museum. I went in mentally unprepared and so had a tough time of it yet again. The museum is small and dedicates most of it’s space to photo journalism from the American war. This photo journalism helped to fuel protests which eventually resulted in the withdrawal of US troops. One room was dedicated to the work of photographers that died during the war, about 20 of them in all. Looking at some of the appalling images it’s hard not to think ‘what the hell were you doing? Stop exploiting these people for photographs and get stuck in helping!’ This was particularly the case for a photo of a mother desperately fleeing across a surging river, struggling to keep hold of her children. However, as John rightly points out, the photographs raised awareness and saved many lives in the long run. We’ll never know what the actual circumstances were with these photographers as they’re all long dead. The room was a nice tribute to them and they certainly didn’t die in vain.

The second photographic exhibition was much more graphic. Appalling agent orange symptoms usually suffered by children born just after the war to exposed parents. Children who are now about the same age as John and I. There were also some indescribably horrendous images of US brutality to Men, Women and Children. How could they?

The same sick feeling appeared again, just like Hiroshima. Although this time it was different. Hiroshima was utterly horrendous cruelty but it was cruelty inflicted from afar where the perpetraitors couldn’t see the damage they’d done. This was pretty hands on, committed by seemingly ordinary folk in some kind of crazed state. The Vietnam war is so recent though, it’s scary. I wonder what was going on in Iraq. I would like to believe times of changed, I really want to believe that.

Humans are evil and nasty and beautiful and wonderful. We are strange creatures. OK, I’m feeling confused as usual. Maybe I should get another coffee shake!

Right, I’m going to write about our fun trip to the Mekong Delta now. The delta area is huge and takes up the majority of Vietnam South of Saigon. We spent most of our time on boats, as you’d imagine. Six different boats in all. We went to floating markets, through water coconut groves and to a coconut candy factory. Plenty of photo opportunities for John and good clean fun. I got to hold a rather rotund python (who knows what they were feeding it on, hopefully not coconut candy!). Really really love snakes so I was grinning from ear to ear. Yippee. Lots of local culture too, not as interested in that though (I’m so naughty, I ought to be!) They started singing songs though, urgh! I was trying, very unsuccessfully, to take photographs of bees.

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Another thing we saw was a hen with a couple of chicks and four adopted ducklings. How cute, so sweet to see! It might be because someone had steamed duck for tea but I’ll pretend I’ve not thought of that! One really sad thing we saw was a gibbon on it’s own in a small bare cage. I’ve never seen an animal look so sad (maybe except Josh the dog when he knows you’re going out and leaving him). John was really upset, the gibbon just looked at you and liked holding your hand. After seeing the really giddy happy gibbons and their aerial acrobatics at the Cuc Phuong sanctuary it was quite a contrast.

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One subject of amusement though was our guide ‘Dong’, that’s the name of the currency here. It’s like being called, Euro, dollar or stirling. Interesting……. He likes to make insinuations about things. He said that too much local rice wine made everybody go to bed early, nobody knows what they do in bed but they all end up with 14 children. He also told us the story of the coconut religion. Apparently a coconut monk ate nothing but coconut and drank only coconut milk. He liked to sleep with 9 naked virgins too apparently. He proved his goodness buy not making any of them pregnant. Very impressive, I hope he wasn’t making condoms out of coconut husks though…….ouch! And last but not least our guide annouced the f*ck music we were going to listen to. Ooh! is this going to be reggae……… Ha no. He repeated it about 5 times. ‘F-O-L-K, f*ck music NO! F-O-L-K, f*ck music.’ Everyone laughs and Dong grins like a Cheshire cat.

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Vietnam is great.

Love to all, hope you’re still awake.

Viv xxx

Some videos

I’ve taken a few videos at points over our travels. They now have a home on the web so I will share them with you. Click on the video name to view each video. In chronological order:

Gannets flying – I know you all didn’t get enough of the gannets with the crazy number of pictures, get your gannet fix with this video.

Pylons – Some telephone pylons taken on a train ride down in Dunedin on NZ’s south island.

Cute Japanese toys – My personal favourite, these toys are endearingly cute. We saw them in a toy shop in Hiroshima after having spent the morning learning about the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it was a good way to cheer ourselves up.

Hanoi rocks

It’s been ages since I last posted on the blog, hopefully this one won’t be too mammoth… You’ll all be pleased to here that the blog is back up and functioning properly again after last week’s sojourn caused by the crap website hosting company suspending our account due to too much traffic and asking $75 a month for a new hosting package! We have now moved hosting company to one less likely to pull the same stunt. Many thanks to Rightee for getting it all back up and running – if anyone bumps into him in the pub please buy the man a pint from me and I’ll stick an IOU in the post!

Once we had eventually got over the food poisoning incident we have really got into Hanoi. The old quarter where we were staying feels more like a town than a city and is great place for random wandering around the narrow streets watching life go by. It’s a very relaxing place to be as the pace of life here is slow, it is also getting very hot so you have to amble everywhere at about half your normal pace. We’ve eaten a lot of baguettes too – the best that I’ve tasted anywhere outside of France – certainly one of the better aspects of colonialism!

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After a couple of days of recovery in Hanoi we set out on a trip to the beautiful karst waterways of Halong Bay. Now despite complaining about organised trips so much in Australia we were actually looking forward to this one so that we didn’t have to think for ourselves quite so much after having to do far too much of that in China. It turned out to be a very relaxing couple of days floating about the calm sea in a moderately opulent boat (at least compared to cramped one we sailed on in Oz!), strolling round a cave, walking to the top of a small island, kayaking in a little lagoon and having BBQs on the beach. We had a great bunch of people in our group which rounded it all off nicely into a fun and relaxing package.

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We have also taken a trip out to the Cuc Phuong national park, notable for the amazing number of butterflies there – at times there were clouds of hundreds of them surroundings, a really beautiful sight. While there we also visited the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre who recover primates from the illegal trading, where they are sold for pets, food and Chinese medicine, and rehabilitate them ready for releasing back into the wild. Our particular favourites were the gibbons, who were indeed very funky – it was great to watch those fellas (and lasses!) bounding acrobatically about the enclosure!

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Our last couple of days in Hanoi involved watching the entertaining water puppets and an enjoyable half day spent wanding around Hanoi and chatting with our hotel receptionist’s sister so that she could practice her English.

We were sad to leave Hanoi as we’d felt really at home there, thanks in no small part to the genuine friendliness of the staff at the Little Hanoi and other Hanoians that we met around the place, but it was time to move and we set off in our first Vietnamese sleeper train down the coast to Hoi An. Hoi An is a beautiful French colanial town with little streets lined with faded yellow buildings giving it a well-aged feel. It is also home to countless tailors where you can get almost any clothing item imaginable for a price which is peanuts compared to that you’d pay in the UK. We made the most of the unique opportunity and picked up beautifully tailored suits, shirts, trousers and skirts – it was a fun experience feeling a little pampered in the tailors’ shops. We really enjoyed having ‘fashion parades’ and seeing ourselves in clothes that are drawn from a limited set of faded, bobbled and generally travel worn items! While we were in Hoi An there was some sort of full moon festival which featured lots of gaudily decorated floats and a parade through town with various other attractions here and there such as a highly impressive martial arts display by kids from the local school.

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I also got up insanely early to beat the tourist rush at the ancient Cham temples of My Son. Compared to the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia My Son was less than impressive, although admittedly being heavily bombed during the American war would not have helped its case.

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From Hoi An it was down to the city formerly known as Saigon and presently known as Ho Chi Minh city. Our arrival there at 5.30am was less than pleasant. Having got virtually no sleep on the train did not get us off to the best start, the taxi drivers unwilling to take us the 3km to our hotel for a reasonable fee did little to lighten our mood further. We balked at the $5 they were unwilling to budge from and chose to walk it as our silent protest against foreigner extortionism. And then the thunder storm started. We arrived almost an hour later wet and extremely tired to find our room not yet ready so we waited in the reception for an hour. On eventually receiving a room (not the double room we had booked, it was a twin) we tried to get some sleep on the promise that we could move later when a double room became available. About an after that was when the hotel renovations started for the day and all thoughts of sleep abandoned. On finding that the promised double room had still not materialised by the promised time and that the workmen had re-started their renovations after being told they had finished for the day we decided that we’d had enough and argued our way out of there, in the end avoiding paying the full room rate they were doggedly demanding. Hoang Linh hotel hotel hang your head in shame and learn something about customer service.

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You’ll be pleased to hear that our time down south has been been considerably better than that initial day. Ho Chi Minh itself is nothing to write home about – on our current limited exploration it seems rather characterless, a lot more industrial and the people not quite so friendly as up north, they’re still very friendly just not to the same degree. We escaped to Cat Tien national park for 3 days out in the wilderness. It was just the two of us and our bouncy guide ‘Tony’ who had some interesting stories from his time spent in the south Vietnamese army during the American war. All the guides here have picked a western name for themselves, Tony’s real name is Dao and we have previously been led by ‘Frank’ and more disconcertingly, ‘Snow White’. We went for some treks through a jungle that actually sounded like you’d expect a jungle to sound. There were also loads of butterflies here again, less in number than Cuc Phong but greater in variety of species. I’ll certainly give them top billing in my list of most beautiful insects when I get round to compiling that and other such arbitrary lists that in reality are never going to come to fruitition so don’t hold hold your breath. Anyway, I digress. A night wildlife spotting on the back of a jeep (saw many deer and not a lot else) and a night spent by a beautiful wetlands lake (which we also spent a morning kayaking around) in the company of crocodiles, monkeys, kingfishers, herons, ducks and other waterfowl rounded off a highly enjoyable time there.

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And I think that just about brings us back up to date again. Expect more regular updates from here now that the blog works again. I’m also working on getting the pictures back again too, in the meantime check out our flickr sites which will be updated with squillions of new photos just as soon as we find a net cafe with a connection that runs faster than congealed porridge. That aside we’re both well and have so far thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vietnam, we’ve still a week or so left here then it’s off to Laos.

Dap biêt!
John

China round up

Well we’ve certainly had some extreme views about this place. Here are our well considered notes after we got over the initial shock.

GOOD

Yes we have quite a few things.

It’s bloody Cheap
yay for that. Beer and food were unbelievably cheap. Full pints were 16p from a shop as were those gorgeous roasted sweet potatoes. In fact, everything was really cheap and not too marked up for foreigners.

Lots of history
The history of China is much more in evidence than it was in Japan. I’m sure that as Chinese development continues some of that may be lost but the Chinese do seem to recognise their history as an asset and are looking after it well on the whole.

The great wall is truly amazing, as are the terracotta warriors. Neither are over restored and so have retained their original charm. The same cannot be said for the forbidden city in Beijing which has been painted a very garish fluorescent red! Some of the back streets in there were interesting though. Pingyao was full of beautiful old Chinese buildings and Xian was dotted with them also.

Karst limestone formations
These things are truly amazing. Have a click on our picture links to see for yourselves. One of my old University lecturers, the very eccentric Jan Bloomendal, used to go on about them all of the time. It always made me want to visit China to see for myself, I was not disappointed. The scenery at the bottom of the karsts was lovely too, rice paddies with water buffalo. As it was spring so everyone was out planting.

Off the backpacker trail
Although there were quite a few tourists it gave us a bit more of a challenge. The same can be said for Japan too where there were less tourists still.

Dare I say it? Food
Aside from that evil noodle soup in Nanning it was gorgeous. My favourite things being chilli beef pittas and roasted sweet potatoes. The standard was usually very high. We did get a little sick of it by the end of the three weeks as it’s universally oily. That said, i think we’ll struggle to find any Chinese restaurants in the UK the are up to scratch now. It’s nothing like the stuff in China.

Well then. That wasn’t to bad was it? Here goes on the not so good stuff…..

BAD

Pollution
It’s overwhelming in North East China, by far the worst place being the port of Tianjin. I remain absolutely and utterly appalled. Severe Smog in Beijing, water courses absolutely filthy. I found many of the streets to be repulsive and smelly too although John doesn’t feel quite so strongly about that one. The price of development eh? I wonder how modern China compares to Victorian England. I think it’s industrialised at a much faster pace but would welcome comments from anyone who knows more about this.

Overcrowding
Partly might be a reason why there’s so much rubbish all over the place, however, it is socially acceptable to litter. Lots of people’s jobs seem to happen outside. We cannot believe how much welding goes on in the streets of China, you have to be careful where you’re looking sometimes or you might get blinded. Activities on the streets are quite interesting in themselves, the only problem is that if there is a pavement there’s no room to walk on it. The roads are crazy with a whole range of vehicles with very little regard for traffic law, it was usually difficult to enjoy a stroll as you needed your concentration to avoid being flattened. China works to the tune of endless car horns too.

The overcrowding was probably the thing that got to us the most in the first week or so. There is simply no escape! It gets on top of you after a while and is perpetuated by the lack of polite co-operation between individals. There are scrums rather than queues and a lot of people just concentrate on looking after number 1. Getting across the road is a nightmare, nobody gives way and zebra crossings are completely meaningless. This is in contrast to Japan’s society from which we sailed. The two nations people couldn’t be more different if they tried.

Persistant Hawkers
I do feel sorry for them as many are very poor. We did buy things from some but there are just too many of them, you get absolutely mobbed. I’ve been told that this was common across Asia but the ones in Vietnam just ask and if you say no and smile they let you be on your way. Not so in China, smiling is not really as helpful there for some reason. Most of the people trying to sell us things simply would not take no for an answer, some of them followed you for quite a while too. It’s a bit stressful for me and irritating for John (we react in slightly different ways). There were some breaks from it but in the touristy areas it’s pretty unbearable. The strange thing is it acually makes us less likely to buy things, especially in shops where you get hassled. It ends up that you daren’t even look at the goods for fear of attracting unwelcome attention.

John tells me that the Hawker intensity in China is similar to India and isn’t quite as bad in the other parts of Asia he’s visited. Phew.

Getting around
This is related to the overcrowding. The long distance train tickets are so sought after that most of the tickets are bought by touts. Getting them on the black market can be a little bit nerve wracking as you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. That means you feel trapped in a crazy overcrowded city with no certain means of escape. It does something funny to your brain sometimes.

Spitting
It had to be in here. It’s not really the spitting it’self that’s really discusting it’s the all too audible means of summonsing it. Absolutley revolting. Not so bad outside on the street it’s really when you have to share the same sleeping quarters as a person with this filthy habit that it gets to you. Apparently the city of Beijing is having a crackdown on it in time for the olympics. GOOD!

Right, that’s that off my chest. Here’s one or two quirky things.
Toilets
Not good enough to make the good category. It would perhaps be a little strange if I said one of the countries best features were it’s toilets anyway! Apart from the first one, which was utterly disgusting, they’ve not been all that bad. We were lucky that there were not too many insects about, that always makes toilets worse. In New Zealand there were a couple on the government campsites that were unusable due to insects buzzing around inside the hole in the ground loos. Dont fancy any of that lot near my bare backside thankyou! (apols for disturbing mental images…) Anyway, i’ve seen far worse toilets at British music festivals.

People
Chinese people like being out on the street (well, we didn’t check to see if all the houses were full too actually), apart from the welding, street chess and cards are popular. Cooking outside is another fave.

Overall the Chinese were a joyless lot and didn’t smile very much. We didn’t feel treated differently though, they weren’t particularly nice to each other either. John thinks that quite a few of them might just be miserable. He’s perhaps right. There were a few notable exceptions to this although the overwhelming majority of the friendly people we met were women and children rather than men. We’ve counted 3 nice men we met. I’ve also mentioned that the basic manners are different to Europe. That takes some getting used to.

The last comment on China is that although we were not enjoying ourselves for much of the time we were there we do feel very rewarded for the trip. It was a massive learning experience and a great challenge for us. It’s what travellings all about and is much different to being on holiday. We’re exploring and and looking forward to finding out more about the world in Vietnam although maybe we’ll give that noodle soup a miss!

The runs caught up with us

It was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s just a shame it chose the day we had a 9 hour land crossing from China to Vietnam. Maybe we said too many nice things about Chinese food and some balance needed to be restored.

The cheap noodle soup we ate at lunch time sat awkwardly in our bellies soon after we ate it. We just put up with it and enjoyed our last night in China with the insane doorman of the hotel restaurant. He was so pleased when we understood his English that he was laughing like some kind of mental case for a good 2 minutes after every sentence. When we told him in Chinese that the food was lovely he was nearly giggling himself into an early grave. We all counted to 20 together in Chinese, can you imagine the state of him after that? A very very fun way to spend our last evening in China. Nice to go out on a high. Or so we thought…..

Neither of us slept. The cheap noodle soup was expanding to unearthly proportions inside our bellies. By 4am some workmen we battering the living daylights out of something or other hanging off a crane outside our window. John was disappearing at ever increasing frequencies in the direction of the loo. Oh dear.

We got up at 6.30, I was feeling tired but OK. John said the thought he’d be alright. We boarded the train for the border. After only half an hour John was draped over the table feeling terrible. We discussed getting a hotel at the border and staying around but he started to feel much better once he got off into the fresh air.

Apart from John being repeatedly asked if he had a gun at Vietnamese customs the crossing was slow but OK. We found no transport once we arrived in Vietnam and so reluctantly accepted a taxi ride. It was a scam. We were deposited at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere where a minibus to Hanoi conveniently appeared demanding six times the local rate as a fare. I was getting very ill indeed by this point and we had no choice. The next 3 and a half hours were the kind that get atheists like me praying to anyone who might exist or listen. My insides were angry at the noodle soup and they didn’t care whether they ejected it upwards or downwards. The more I resisted the more ill I became and the more every bump in the road required upmost determination to cope with.

The hostel staff at Hanoi were like angels. They let us straight into the room and drove John around town on the back of a motorbike looking for remedies. I was as ill as ever and spent the night and the whole of the following day without even leaving our room. John still wasn’t all that well himself and really pulled all the stops out for me. Thank you. Today we are finally both fully recovered – just. We’ve been in Hanoi for 3 days.

We’ve not yet tried the local speciality food of Hanoi – Noodle Soup.

Other last stories from China.

The only notable thing really was our journey from Yangshuo to Nanning. We said our goodbyes to Wei (father person) and his family. Wei’s niece came to help us flag down the bus. We estimate her to be between 16 and 19, she works like a slave cooking and cleaning. She was working when we got up, she was working when we went to bed. Every day. She somehow seems really happy and is always cheery and giggly, we really warmed to her. Wei, although not an unpleasant man in any way, never lifted a finger to help his wife (also lovely) or niece. I know this is not Britain but China with totally different cultural values but I couldn’t help lose a little respect for him. I’m going away to do more exciting things and kept thinking about Wei’s niece doing the same boring thing forever. Waiting for the bus I had an uncontrollable urge to take her with us and save her from a life of endless domestic chores. I’m confused, she would hate me to do that and seems to be happy. Not sure what to think.

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The antics on the bus soon distracted us from our sad thoughts. People were being kicked off the bus only to be picked up again minutes later. The driver and conductor were arguing furiously. Later the driver was stopped and fined for having too many people on board. Ahh! The penny drops. Some people had to get off. They were picked up less than 100 metres away, barely out of eye shot of the police. Amusing.

John will write a post about Vietnam soon, we’re liking it so far. Next up will be the China round up.

Take care everyone.

Love Viv xx