A Travellerspoint blog

An Imperial City and a rank bus!

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This morning we fit in our last bit of sightseeing in Hue. We thought it would take all morning but it only took a couple of hours! We went to the Imperial City within the Citadel area of the city. This was a walled fortress and palace used by past Emperors up until the rule of the last Vietnamese Emperor ended in the mid-1900s. During the Vietnam war fighting caused substantial damage to the Imperial City and much of it is still in ruins today although it is in the process of being restored. It was nice to go and see it but the rain put a bit of a dampner on the day. To warm up, we headed to the DMZ bar for a cup of tea and some lunch whilst we tried to decide what tailored clothes to get made at our next destination of Hoi An.

Then it was onto a four hour bus to Hoi An. The bus was rank! Mould everywhere and it stank! I felt the need to constantly sanitise my hands. Ew! But we arrived in Hoi An safe and sound and checked in to a rather nice hotel, although it does have a swimming pool in the breakfast room which is a little odd!

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After planning to just go out for dinner, we somehow managed to stay out pretty late, drinking a tad too much. I blame the 4,000 dong (12p) beer!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 00:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hue Comments (0)

DMZ

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Today we went on a full day tour to go to the DMZ; the Demilitarized Zone. When Vietnam was split, the Ben Hai river separated the communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam. Five kilometres either side of this river was defined as the DMZ, i.e. "no man's land".

It was a long, long drive to get to the area. Lucky for us we took our Kindles and iPods! During the day we visited several important sites in the area:

- Rock Pile: This was a big hill on which the American's had a lookout point during the war. The only way they could get to the top was by helicopter.
- Ethnic Village: We didn't go into the village, we were just told to get off the bus and take a picture which was a little odd!

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- Dakrong Bridge: This was a bridge near the start to one of the many Ho Chi Minh trails. There were no bridges across this particular river during the war.

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- Start of one of the Ho Chi Minh trails near Dakrong Bridge: During the war, there were 26 Ho Chi Minh trails. These trails were used by the Viet Minh (North Vietnamese army) as supply routes between North Vietnam, and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

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- Tacon American Airbase: This airbase was involved in the Tet offensive which ultimately led to America withdrawing its troops from Vietnam. The Viet Minh army attacked Tacon airbase to draw the the South Vietnamese and US armies to Tacon, away from the Tet offesive targets which included the US embassy in Saigon.

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- Ben Hai River: This was the river which divided North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

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- The Vinh Moc Tunnels: To escape the bombing during the war, hundreds of people moved underground to live in a man-made tunnel network. Up to 600 people lived in these tunnels for 6 years. Within the tunnels there were "rooms" designated as toilets, a bathroom, a kitchen, a medical room and even a maternity room. Durng the 6 years, 17 babies were born here! It was quite shocking to see the appalling conditions which people were forced to live in to escape the violence right on their doortsep.

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- American Doc Mieu Fire Base: A miitary cemetery for fallen communist soldiers. Most graves are unmarked as the identity of the deceased was unknown.

After this was the long drive back to Hue! Once back we went straight to the DMZ Bar and Restaurant for dinner and a Hue beer (definitely not our favourite beer we've sampled since being away)!

Whilst Jo went back to the hotel for a shower, I went to get a haircut. I was trying to hold out until I got to South Africa but as it's been over four months since it was last cut, my hair is a state!! It was probably the most bizarre hairdresser experience I've had. It seemed to involve all the staff in the hairdresser together with their friends who were hanging out there! Thankfully only one guy was holding a pair of scissors. The rest just stared and took photos of me on their phones. Once it was done, I had to sit for a little while longer while they all took turns having their photo taken with me. Very funny. I can't say it's the best haircut I've ever had (in fact it's probably one of the worst...he chopped way too much off the front!) but it only cost about £3 so I can't complain! Once I got back to the hotel, Jo had to even out the back for me which he'd left ridiculously long compared to the rest. Oops!!

Now that we're back in our comfy hotel, we've decided that we haven't quite got the energy to go out afterall (we did get up at 5.15am!) so instead we've bought some chocolate, got some jasmine tea and have found a trashy film to watch on the tele! Lovely!!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 00:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged dmz Comments (0)

Motorbikes, royal tombs and a pagoda

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Our bus into Hue arrived late this morning, but some guys from our hostel were still there to meet us. We were a little groggy from the train journey and it took a minute before we could comprehend that they wanted to take us back to the hostel on the back of motorbikes! This was Tam's first time, but I had already experienced the madness of rush hour on a motorbike in Hanoi - crazy! Despite this, we arrived safely and were greeted with a refreshing cold drink and some scrumptous breakfast! As our room wasn't ready yet we ventured out into the city for a look around and to plan what we would do for our one full day and two half days here. This was harder than you would imagine! But eventually we figured our plans out and headed back to the hostel to freshen up.

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We decided that the cheapest and easiest way to see the royal tombs outside the city that afternoon was on xe om (motorbike!). So after grabbing some helmets, we got on the back of two motorbikes and zoomed out of the city. Overall, the four hours we spent being driven around were a little hair raising - speeding down tiny dirt tracks, through some back of beyond villages, near misses with other vehicles etc. But so much fun! The ride was actually more interesting than some of the tombs!

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But anyway, the tombs... two pretty standard with some nice grounds and limited information, and one awesome one with a Gaudi-esque ceiling! Then we paid a quick call to a pagoda, which was nice. As you can probably tell, we were a little underwhelmed in general.

After returning safe and sound, we headed over to our new favourite restaurant The DMZ Bar for dinner. YUM! We have a very early start tomorrow morning so it is time for bed now - rock 'n' roll!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 00:02 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hue Comments (0)

A lot of transport........

a boat, a bus, another boat, another bus and a sleeper train!

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Early start for us on Monkey Island today...checkout was at a very unreasonable 7.15am! Yuck! But we were treated to pancakes for breakfast! Yum!

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Most of the rest of the day was spent travelling back to Hanoi. This involved two boats and two buses! Needless to say it took a while. But for much of it we got to admire some more incredible scenery.

Once back in Hanoi we grabbed a speedy bite to eat at the Le Gecko restaurant down the road from our hotel (a restaurant introduced to us by Dan a few days ago!). Then it was straight to the station to get on the sleeper train to Hue. I think we were completely spoilt by our sleeper trains to and from Sapa; we miss the flat screen, the super soft bed and the plush furnishings of our deluxe cabin! But this sure beats a sleeper bus (I have vowed never to get one of those ever again)!!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 00:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged halongbay Comments (0)

Fish farms and pong ping....

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Today we woke with only slight groggy heads and settled down to another great meal. After breakfast we bid our farewells to a few of our boat mates as they headed back to Hanoi and we headed onwards to Monkey Island, our home for tonight. A boat, a bus and another boat later and we arrived. It was awesome and we loved our little cabin near the beach :-)

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After dumping our bags we started the hike up to the top of the island for great views across the bay. As usual, our guide appeared to be in a very big hurry, so the hike that he had said would take half an hour, took only twenty minutes! But the views were fantastic! I managed to somehow impale my hand on a branch, but nothing else eventful happened.

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After lunch and an hour of doing nothing, Tam and I left the island to go exploring Lan Ha Bay by boat. No one fancied joining us on this expedition, but that was a mistake! It was stunning, and so much less crowded than Halong Bay. We also got to visit a fish farm (where we were nearly attacked by dogs whilst tottering along very narrow planks of wood!) and watch some people collecting shellfish. Very cool!

Back at the resort post boating, Tam and I got very, very bored. But we discovered a ping pong table in the dining area..... As neither of us is very good at ping pong, we invented a new game, which we named pong ping. It basically involved keeping the ball in play, but being able to use the table of any other part of the room as the playing field. It was very amusing, if not a little dangerous for anyone else in the room. After this I managed to somehow befriend another child, who spent a good hour sat on a stool with me, playing on a drawing game on my iphone! They can seriously smell my fear! Dinner soon - yum!!

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Tomorrow we head back to Hanoi. But its been a great trip! :-)

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 23:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged halongbay Comments (0)

Back on water...

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Today was the first day of our three day, two night tour on Halong Bay. First on the agenda...a four hour bus ride to the port. I had a very pleasant journey on the bus thanks to downloading the Hangover 2 and some Doctor Who episodes onto my iPhone! Jo managed to snooze a bit!

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The scenery in Halong bay is just stunning. I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

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After checking into our pretty luxurious cabins on the boat, we settled down with our group for a super tasty lunch. The fried squid was amazing! First stop after lunch was Thien Cung Grotto, the "Amazing Cave". It was very nice although it didn't feel quite authentic owing to the abundance of colourful lights glowing throughout the cave (almost tacky)! It was fun however trying to spot the animals, shapes etc. that our guide was pointing out to us with his laser pen. Next stop was a fishing village in the bay where we took some kayaks out. By the end of it, Jo and I had got the hang of our double kayak. There were only a few instances of a near crash, one of which was when we were trying to kayak through the rock formation which is shown on the 200,000 Dong note!

Once back on the boat, we warmed up with a nice Irish coffee on the deck (thanks to Mr and Mrs Venables who sent Jo some Baileys for Christmas!!) and played some cards with the rest of our group before dinner.

Dinner was as delicious as lunch. We were not expecting the food or the boat to be so nice seeing as we only paid $105 for the whole three day trip!

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After dinner we all somehow (I blame Jo) ended up playing "Ring of Fire"! Needless to say, a lot of Halong Beer was consumed. At one point, our guide challenged us all to try and get a cork out of a bottle into which it had been pushed without breaking the bottle. We were promised free beer if we succeeded. Of course we failed! That meant we all had to down a bottle of beer (I cheated by pouring the majority of mine into an empty glass)! We were then shown how the trick is done. I would tell you but it's a good party trick for us to know ;-)

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 23:06 Archived in Vietnam Tagged halongbay Comments (0)

A very angry Tamara!

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We got back into Hanoi today at 5.30am. We were both pretty tired and so we jumped into a taxi, the driver of which said that he ran on the meter. We had heard rumours about dodgy cab firms in the city, but we were too tired to wander the streets looking for the trust worthy green taxis. Big mistake! Before even leaving the train station car park we had supposedly done 5km and we watched in horror during the 3km journey to our hostel at the meter skipping rapidly higher and higher, reaching 16km by the end of our journey! Tam and I had already agreed how much we would pay for the journey, the driver was asking for more than three times that price. Tammy got very angry! Even in my zombiefied state it was hard not to find the situation amusing! Especially when Tam was stood on the pavement yelling at the driver that he was a crook and she would report him to the police, as he had my bag held hostage in the front seat of the car with him, with the doors locked! I managed to subtly unlock the door as he was yelling back at Tammy and she threw it open. We both managed to wrestle the bag out of his hands before I threw some money at him and jumped out of the car! We ran for the hostel! Not a great start to the day!

Following this, no one was awake at the hostel so it took a while to actually get in! Then our room wasn't ready so we curled up on some seats to wait for breakfast at 7am. After breakfast we were informed that there was no longer any room available at the hosel and we were being moved elsewhere, which involved another taxi across town (thankfully in a green cab!). When we got to our new digs we were thrilled to discover that it was a plush (well plush for us!) hotel! We were less thrilled that our room was on the sixth floor and there was no elevator!

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Anyway, after a quick freshen up, we headed out for a jam packed day of sight seeing. First stop Temple of Literature, basically a very, very old university. We liked the Chinese influence to its architecture. Next, the Ho Chi Minh complex. The first issue was trying to get in! We were turned away from several entrances and told the place was closed at the last one we tried. We managed to sneak in and found that the museum was open, so we had a wander around. But the mausoleum was closed. We were not too disappointed, as we didn't really want to see the dead Ho Chi Minh, especially not as he had wanted to be cremated and not put on show like that. On the way to West Lake we walked past the site of the mausoleum and the palace. And finally we hit the big lake. It was big, but that was about it! We found a bunch of very scary swan boats and a number of restaurants serving everything from tortoise to otter! We settled down at the one that looked the fullest and ordered the most boring thing we could find on the menu!

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Post lunch we went to the Ethnology Museum, which was very, very interesting! Lots of good exhibits and we learnt a lot about the different ethnic minority groups in Vietnam. We particularly liked the fertility carvings around the burial houses (see pictures above!)!

Tomorrow is another early start as we head out to Halong Bay! Back to the sea! Whoop!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 23:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (0)

Chilling and blogging

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Today we were supposed to be going to a market about 40km from Sapa called Coc Ly. Unfortunately, as it is low season, there are no organised tourist groups going there at the moment. It would've cost us over $100 to hire a driver and a car to get to the market so instead we took the opportunity to stroll around Sapa (where we've truly experienced all four seasons in one day...weather here is crazy!), drink tea and blog. This will be the first time our blog has been up to date since China! Enjoy!!

We leave to get the sleeper train back to Hanoi shortly. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll be showing episodes of Mr. Bean again!!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 02:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sapa Comments (1)

Mud, mud, mud!

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Today we signed up for a 14km hike through the hills, taking advantage of the fact that I could breathe again for the first time in several weeks! We met our local guide at 9am and then picked up one more person before taking the minivan down the hill, passed the crowds of tourists doing easier hikes, and to the start of one of the hill tribe villages that we were to visit that day.

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I will let the pictures tell you how fantastic the scenery (and lunch!) was and just go into detail about the mud.... there was a lot of it! So much in fact, that we needed two lovely, and unbelievably strong, local women and one local child to give us a hand up and down the very, very slippery slopes of the bamboo forest. Needless to say we both fell over - who needs mud treatments at a spa?! For three hours we trekked in these conditions, with Tam and I just about able to keep up with our guide who appeared to be racing to the finish line! The Taiwanese girl on the trip with us seriouly struggled though! But even despite this, and the hold up at lunch time when we had to wait for a bunch of local men to finish throwing giant rocks down the hill towards us in the name of road building (!), we still finished way ahead of time.

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As a result we had to wait around in the minivan just a few kilometers from Sapa, for a load of people on easier hikes to finish. Luckily it meant I could get a good few photos of the local women who wear the most beautiful, brightly coloured clothing I've ever seen!

Back to the hotel for a hot shower and some chilling out before heading downstairs for an early dinner. A very good day indeed!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 02:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sapa Comments (1)

Sapa

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Last night's train journey was pure luxury (for us anyway)! A lovely four cabin berth which we shared with a nice Australian couple, a proper western toilet, and a TV in our cabin that was showing episodes of Mr. Bean!! Amazing!! Had it not been for a load of men down the hallway "partying" all night, we both probably would've slept very well!

On arriving at the train station in the morning we were a mere 3km from the Chinese border! It was a 30km drive from the train station to our destination of Sapa!

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Layers (lots of layers) were in order for today. It is cold here in Sapa! Plus we've become accustomed to warm weather so have turned into complete wimps when the temperature drops below 20 degrees.

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We spent the morning walking around the town, looking at the market stalls where Jo bought an awesome woolly hat, stopped for hot chocolate then decided to walk down to Cat Cat village. Cat Cat village is about 4km down hill from Sapa. We had some very friendly local ladies join us for the walk down. Inevitably they tried to sell us some of their handmade goods at the end but we politely declined. They gave us some miniture horses made out of straw anyway. Very sweet!

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Whilst walking through the village down it's many steps we were followed by a young boy who was after Jo's water bottle. The bottle was filled with Berocca so obviously Jo wasn't going to give it away. Over the course of about five minutes he attempted to grab the bottle several times and his whining got louder and louder until eventually his temper tantrum errupted into him punching Jo in the kideys!! At this point I used my "teacher voice" to tell him that if he didn't stop, I would go and find his mother. I don't think he understood what I said but he scarpered pretty quick after this!

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The rest of our walk was pretty but unfortunately ruined slightly by every local person trying to get us to buy stuff from them. We eventually arrived at a nice waterfall where we admired the view for a few minutes before finding a couple of motorbikes to take us back to the town. These motorbike taxis are known locally as xe om. Efficient, quick and just a little bit risky owing to the lack of helmets!

We were both craving a shepards pie for dinner after having read on Lonely Planet that an English pub in the town serves it (we needed warming up after our hike!). Unfortunately the pub no longer served cottage pie (fail Lonely Planet, fail!) so we opted for an Italian instead. The garlic bread and salad were delicious but the lasagne was mainly a bowl of melted cheese! Think we'll stick to Vietnamese cuisine for the rest of our stay here in Sapa!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 01:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sapa Comments (1)

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