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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.