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One Year of Travel - Vietnam - February/March 2008
We had to spend the night in an airport hotel in Bangkok as we were unable to stay in the airport. Much more comfortable! When we got to the airport the next day to check in they noticed Katies visa for Vietnam said 2007 not 2008. The embassy in London had messed up. We had to miss our flight and go to the embassy in Thailand to get it changed. We finally managed to get an evening flight and got here in the end!!!
We have spent our time once we got here in Hanoi. We managed walked to walk around lake Ho Hoan Kiem and went to the tortoise temple in the middle. There is also a tower in the centre of the lake which you can only get to by boat, but this being an important lake you are not aloud to have boats on it.
We went past a local market and thought we would have a look in. It was full of tanks of live fish and eels all squirming about. One even had two turtles or terrapins things in it! Then we noticed a cage full of slimy warty toads. They eat some strange things here!!!
Each street has certain items on them. So you would have for instance Shoe Street, Toy Street and others named for the things they sold on that street. It was a great way to find your way around rather than trying to say the street names even though it was quite bizarre!
We have also been to the National museum of Vietnamese history. It was interesting to see their development was pretty similar to ours apart from the decorations of dragons and temples!
We arrived in Hanoi before the rest of our group and did a bit of sight seeing, as we knew where the sights were, with them before heading to Yen Bai about 100K north.
We were moved to an area called Yen Bai to the North of Hanoi as our base. It was nice to get out of the city, but there is absolutely nothing to do in the area. We were some what a tourist attraction for the locals though and some stare so hard that they nearly come off their bikes. If we waved they give us a huge smile back though!
For entertainment here they seem to hire a room in a hotel and have a private karaoke party. Very odd! We had a go one evening and enjoyed it for a while but grew bored of it fairly quickly.
The roads are not good and bumpy so a 1 hour journey at home can take 3 hours plus so we have spent a fair time on the road recently!
We got to Yen Bai after travelling in a mini bus for ages. It was a totally non tourist place and we must have been the first westerners they had ever seen here. The people on their motorbikes where nearly falling off as they stared at us. It was very amusing to be the centre of attention.
We stayed in a state owned hotel that was very big and was a bit damp in the rooms where they had not been used for a while. It was also the place that the lottery they hold is done from each week.
This is where we started to learn Vietnamese so that we could at least say hello and no thank you. The normal counting and what things are etc. We were taught how to say the different ingredients for spring rolls and the quantities. This was one of the dishes we had to prepare, but also shop in the local market for. It was great. We were split into groups and some had vegetables to get and others meat. I am pleased to say that we managed to get most of the things we needed, but wrong fruit and the meat was supposed to be pork, but ended up with beef. So not bad for a few hours of learning then putting us in a position to test our language skills.
We have been learning the language and can say a few things and a little more with the sheets in front of us!!! We had to go to the market and buy the ingredients for a cooking lesson and none of them can speak English! A great challenge! Katies group did ok but we came out with beef instead of pork some how!!! My group also did well but got a mango instead of a vegetable they needed! With the ingredients we made spring rolls which tasted really nice!
We walked around the town and played Frisbee in the main field. Also we managed to get a football match between us and the guys from the hotel in their car park. We won by about 4 goals so they invited us all to an outside bar to have some food and a drink.
When we tried to pay they grabbed us and said no they were going to pay. We had great fun with these guys. They were keen to teach us some other new words, like cheers and a song that you sing before drinking your beer.
We also saw an old fighter jet that had been shot down and was still intact. It was in a fenced area so that people could walk around it. They also had lots of new buildings going up around the town as if they were expecting a bit of growth. So its gearing up to be a very tourist based area.
Home Stay in Ngoi
We then went on to a minority village called Ngoi and did a home stay with a family in a wooden house on stilts. We slept on mattresses on the floor of the house and it was a shared room with the family in one half and us in the other. Due to it being near the rice paddies they gave us mosquito nets to use, which was good. The people in the village were very interested in us and stopped what ever they were doing to look at us! Katie dressed up in traditional minority clothes in the house with one of the other girls in the group. Then they all wanted a go. It was fun to see them in the customary dress. We also visited other houses in the village and were offered food and rice wine in every house. In one house he was determined to get us all drunk on the stuff.
We also played cards with our host family in the evening. The good thing was that they made chips for dinner on our last night and they were gone within seconds of them being put out. It was so funny for the host family to see us do this. The food was good anyway and they even catered for Katie being a vegetarian.
We had a boat trip back from Ngoi village to Yen Bai the next day which was nice but I was surprised to see only 1 bird and no other wildlife at all! There were fishermen in boats that they rowed with their feet, and also some powered boats like the one we were in laying fishing nets.
When we got to the other end we had to walk to the mini bus which took us to a local persons house to use their toilet. To our surprise, it wasn't a squat toilet, but as they call them a lazy toilet, which is a western one! We then drove from there in the mini bus again onwards to a Buddhist Temple.
Truc Lam Thien Vien
We then spent two nights at a monastery with the monks and nuns. It is on an ancient site but has recently been rebuilt so is clean and tidy. They monks were really welcoming and we joined them in their daily routine. Up at 3am to meditate, then to prepare breakfast and then eat at 6am! (1 ½ hours if we could manage it). We were all taken out after an hour by a nice monk who knew we would not be able to sit still much longer!!
We were then aloud to rest for an hour or so although they didn't. We pottered about, had lunch at 11.30 and the dinner at 5.30. The monks don't eat in the evening as it stops them meditating so well! We then had prayers at 6.30 for an hour and then 1 ½hours meditation till 9pm! Lights out was 10pm! We were all shattered after a few days doing it and were pleased to be back in a hotel! Great experience though and a great insight into how the monks and nuns live day to day.
We moved to Tam Dao Mountain and found ourselves right in the fog! It didn't clear for the 2 days we were there. I in the main group hiked up Tam Dao Mountain which was a bit of a mystery tour as the guide we had only went up there that day and took us on a near rock climb. One of the guys was not wearing the right footwear so it was funny watching him skip about in sandals. We got to the top and opened our lunches that were not great and I threw mine away. It was rice again but it had gone cold on the way up the mountain. Katie however, stayed behind with a few others and went to visit a waterfall that turned out to be a dribble! Even they had fog covering the route. We got back very tired after we had been rock climbing rather than having a gentle hike as our guide said!
Sapa by Train
On Friday 4 new guys joined the group. They had decided to travel themselves a bit before coming here. It was strange having some different faces in the group. We only got to meet them for a few minutes as we (4 of us) went off and caught the night train up to Sapa. It is in the North, close to the Chinese border. We left at 2am and arrived at 6.30. The whole town was buzzing and the train station was swamped with taxis waiting to take us to Sapa town. We were all very tired. We visited the town in the morning and then went to see the Silver waterfall in the afternoon. We also went along the highest mountain pass in Vietnam. Again Sapa is mainly fog! We even had fog in the hotel as it is open fronted! Everything is damp and there is water dripping off everything. The TV fizzes with the amount of damp in the room!
This morning we got up early to go to a market. We were nearly there (3 hours driving) when we came to a jam. It had rained and turned the road into mud. Vehicles had got stuck and there was a mud slide further up the valley road. In the end we gave up as there was no way we were going to make it up the hill and came back to where we are to get the train. A bit disappointing but never mind!
We are off back to Hanoi on the night train tonight and will be there for a week. There are only 4 of us doing the teaching and the rest are coming up here to Sapa to do a weeks treking! We will joing up again in a weeks time!
Teaching Fishing Village Kids
We have had an action packed few weeks here. We had a good week teaching English to a group of fishing village children. They do not have birth certificates or enough money to attend the state schools. The centre was opened to try to give them some sort of education. It was very interesting although very disorganised to Katie as she is a teacher in a developed and supported system in the UK and she was not sure the children were learning as well as they could. There were no long term goals and people just taught what they fancied even if it had been covered many times before! We gave our ideas of improvements in the evaluation so I hope as it develops it will improve the lives of there children.
During that week we were taken out by the local students on their motorbikes. An incredibly thrilling experience going through the streets of Hanoi as a pillion passenger! Great fun though! We were also taken to a university meeting (for an English club) and treated like royalty. We had to sit at the front, were given flowers and a gift! It was a concert type thing put on for English clubs from different universities! I was dragged up and entered into a competition and we all won a music CD.
We then spent a week at Halong bay and stayed on an island called Cat Bar. It is a nature reserve. We had a trek through the reserve and visited some caves one of which has a mythical meaning of heven and earth meeting and animals bieng created. We visited one on Cat Ba Island that was an old hospital. It was very well constructed and would of housed hundreds of troops and staff. It was really interesting to see. We also went on a day trip on Kayaks and paddled through the limestone islands! A very relaxing week although the weather was not good enough to chill out on the beach! We did get to go onto the beach round from our hotel that was in front of another very nice looking place. It was sandy but very windy though.
We then ended our experience that we booked onto and are now on our own travelling through South Asia until June. We have headed South with a few friends we had met on the tour on night buses with bunk beds on them! It is a unique experience. Especially when one had a near miss at midnight! We were all woken by a bang and the driver slamming on his breaks and regaining control of the vehicle! We arrived safely (after 17 hours) in Hoi An, an ancient town that missed being destroyed in the war. So still retains some of its older building and streets as it would have been way back when.
A lovely town but far too touristy! Katie had some clothes made for her though. You chose the style you like, then the material and trims etc then they measure you and make them to fit! You end up with unique clothes!
After a few nights we got on another night bus to Nha Trang (12 hours), a coastal resort with a beautiful beach. It is so much hotter here and we have been struggling!!! Abby (one of the Vietnam group) and Katie spent the day on the beach while I was doing my PADI Rescue Diver Course. Then yesterday and today they joined me on the dive boat for some diving. Katie did a PADI Distinctive Speciality Course as a Vietnamese Diver and I completed my second day of my Rescue Diver Course. Abby did a discover scuba diving dive on both days and thoroughly enjoyed it. Katie knows where to turn if we have any troubles under the water now!
Abby and Katie continue tonight (another night bus for 12 hours) to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I am staying to finish the third day of Rescue Diving and will join them a day later!
Ho Chi Min City (Saigon)
Katie and Abby ended up in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). They rushed about doing the sights - The war museum (full of horrific photos), the reunification palace (which looked more like a community hall and was not as splendid as we had expected!) and the Notre Dame which looks just like the one in Paris, but on a smaller scale.
When I arrived to meet them, we went to the Chu Chi tunnels. These were tunnels that were part of a massive network used during the war. They were tiny. We crawled through a section but got out after one bit. Small guys and girls managed to live and run (escaping) along them! We managed to get through less than 50 meters of one. It was also very hot inside the tunnels we were in. Its a popular tourist place so it was full of bus loads of visitors.
I managed to get to the museums and see the things that Katie had seen previously. With only hours to go till we had to get to the bus station for our next journey across the border into Cambodia.