Feb
26
2013

Vietnam – Hanoi and Ha Long Bay

Abby didn’t feel much better over the next few days but as we really had to move on towards Hanoi we opted to take the overnight bus (including bike). OMG was this a mistake looking back at it!

It started off by some random guy that wasn’t associated with the bus company at all syphoning every last drop of our petrol and then putting it in his own bike before riding off into the distance. Once two of the travel company guys had finished throwing our bike into the luggage area of the bus, we boarded what was to become our prison for the next 12 hours. Pictures will never tell the whole story of how bad this bus was and I can’t even begin to describe what the toilet area smelt like. The smell was on par with places in Delhi and I’m glad there were people crammed into the aisles sleeping as it certainly discouraged those that wanted to toilet from actually using it. Every time that door opened, us and the people in our vicinity nearly threw up.

The ride was the bumpiest I have ever been on, I’m sure all the springs were snapped or missing. Abby managed to grab the only two beds left that were next to each other and unfortunately they were the top bunks, so I let her have the one by the window while I chose the middle. Abby did manage to get a few hours sleep while I lay there all night gripping the side of the bunk trying to stay in it.

To cut a long and very smelly story short, we finally arrived in Hanoi to only find the constant bumping had smashed one of our bike's mirrors and snapped off the clutch handle. I confronted the driver to try and get him to give me some money but he had lost all ability to speak English so I just left him to it. As we watched the bus drive away and the crowd of passengers disappear into the streets, Hanoi seemed very quiet for 6am. As I pushed the bike through the streets looking for some fuel or the a local garage to fix my clutch lever, I remember thinking at least it isn’t raining!

If anyone is wondering what the picture above is all about, the silver car had parked up (in the middle of a roundabout) and the driver had jumped out to either get a KFC or go the bank! Mental!

So Hanoi was a nice place but not really much to see or do which was good as we spent a day or two just around the hotel hoping Abby would start to feel better soon. I used this time to fix and sell the bike which I managed to do before our trip to Ha Long Bay. I managed to get most of money back for the bike so it really did turn out to be a good investment! Sad to see her go but might have to get a bike when I get home!

From Hanoi we travelled by bus to Ha Long bay where we spent two days and a night on-board a boat just floating among the 2000 or so limestone islands! Amazing!

Whilst in the bay we did an hours kayaking and went to visit the floating village where the boys from Top Gear ended their challenge in that particular episode.

We would certainly recommend a cruise around the bay to anyone who is thinking of visiting. The food on-board was some of the best we had in Vietnam and our cabin was beautiful. Abby even did a spot of squid fishing in the evening which she enjoyed.

We spent one more night in Hanoi before we were due to fly into Bangkok again for hopefully a better time that the last time we were there!

Feb
18
2013

Vietnam – The central regions

The countryside between HCMC and Da Lat which was up in the mountains was magnificent. There were so many shades of green it was like looking at a colour chart in B&Q!

We pretty much had the roads to ourselves up to Da Lat which made Abby feel a bit more comfortable as we’d seen a couple of crashes the day before. They were all relatively low speed crashes, mostly were 2 people going opposite directions both decide to turn and cross each other and eventually hit each other about 10mph. After they have picked themselves and the bikes back up, there is normally a bit of an argument and then they go on their way.

The south of Vietnam was incredibly hot (top 30s) so our biking attire consisted of just t-shirt and shorts although I had opted for trainers instead of flip flops because changing gear the day before kept hurting my big toe. As we climbed into the mountains it got colder and colder (down to around 10-12C I guess) and as we were riding through the clouds, we had to stop to put something a bit warmer on.

Da Lat was a beautiful place nestled right in the mountains and a bit off the general tourist trail. It was centred round a huge man-made lake which had quite a lot of pedal boats (swans and motorcars) for hire. Although we were quite high up in the mountains, the temperature had risen again to mid 20Cs and a wander round the lake was quite pleasant. It reminded me a bit of a Spanish or Italian town build in a hill interconnected with hundreds of tiny side streets and alleyways.

Abby continues to attract attention and make friends everywhere she goes!

I again got dragged around yet more markets, although I did find something rather interesting this time!

We didn’t stay in Da Lat for more than a couple of days before we hit the road again and headed for the cost to Nah Trang. Nah Trang looked a nice place at first but upon closer inspection had been westernised beyond belief. It had also become a bit of a party destination so finding accommodation was very tricky. Although we had arrived around midday, it took until 3-4pm to find somewhere that had a room and it was right on the outskirts of the town. We decided to only stay here one night and as there were much nicer places to go further up the coast.

The only thing I really remember about this place is that there was a proper all American Memphis bar and grille right in the middle of town, decorated with American flags, music, the works. It was quite ‘in your face Yank’ if you know what I mean and I wondered how the Vietnamese had let them settle.

Further on up the coast the country got quite narrow and you are pinned to the coastline by the mountains the run up the Vietnam and Laos border. Again the scenery was beautiful as we were riding with the sea on our right and the paddy fields and mountains on our left. Also the roads were fairly quiet here and dual carriageway so we had a bit of tarmac to play with.

We broke the journey to Hoi An up with an overnight stop in a small little town called Quih Non. We were literally the only tourists here and as it was Valentine’s Day, we decided to go for a romantic stroll along the beach to find the American Tank that had just been deserted and left after the war. We never actually found the tank (I think we strolled in the wrong direction) but we met loads of really friendly locals that just wanted to come and talk to us to see where we were from and to practice their English. As it was still the TET holiday (the week off they have for New Year’s) loads of locals were steaming drunk. As we got to the top of the beach and were about to cross the road, a guy pull up on his bike, clambered off and ran over to Abby and gave her a big hug and a kiss. Another group of locals nearby crowd cheered as he ran over and kissed me, then staggered back to his bike (stinking of Whiskey) and proceeded to wobble down the road.

We found a great little place to eat called Aroma which was a BBQ restaurant and each table had its own little BBQ set in the middle of the table were you get to cook your own food. It was a great Valentine’s Day in all and topped off later on by the fantastic news that our good friends Dan and Rosie had got engaged. Congratulations both! It’s about bloody time Dan! Abby even had a little cry at the news!

 

Hoi An

Hoi An is a real old town with a river running through it renowned for its hundreds of tailor shops. I resisted the urge to get a whole tailored suit made although the quality was fantastic and the price was even better! I did find the shop where Clarkson and May bought Hammond his model galleon from on Top Gear but Abby stopped me from getting one. There really was no room on the bike anyway.

We visited yet more markets (sigh) and bought even more stuff for the house and to carry round (double sigh). In the evening it was very pretty around the Japanese covered bridge to see all the coloured lanterns in the water floating round.

We stayed here for a couple of days to give ourselves a little rest and also decided to shed some weight by sending home a big box of things we had bought. The bike really was getting heavy now and I had refused to carry anything else as Abby had gone on a market spending spree for lanterns the night before! We’re going to have to move when we get back as there just isn’t enough horizontal surfaces in our house for everything she has bought!

 

Hue

The journey from Hoi An to Hue took us through the best scenery Vietnam had to offer. The ride up into the mountains really was one of the best roads I’ve even driven/ridden on and they were virtually empty. The road hugged the coastline but curved and dropped with some spectacular hairpins as it clung to the side of the mountain. We found ourselves going about a mile at a time then stopping for photos until we realised we’d been on the road for a few hours and hadn’t even got halfway along the relatively short distance between these two places! Amazing!

Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam until it was changed to Hanoi in 1945. We again stayed here for a few days and visited the Citadel which was just littered with memories of the war with America. Crashed planes, abandoned tanks, guns and thousands of bullet holes covered the whole place and it was a great day out walking round the place. It was an immense place and would have been a fantastic strong hold in its time which is probably why it featured some of the most horrific fighting of the war.

We had planned on doing an organised day trip to the DMZ although we could have gone on our own. They just advise you to be careful as only some of the paths through the DMZ have been cleared of mines! Anyway, Abby picked up a stomach bug and as this trip wasn’t high enough up our priority list, we didn’t bother.

Feb
11
2013

Good morning Vietnam!

Ok so before I start with Vietnam, I just want to let you know I have upgraded my blog site to get rid of a few bugs and to allow me to add video to future posts (as per Dan’s Vine request). So if anyone is experiencing any issues, it’s worth pressing the CTRL and F5 buttons on your keyboard to make sure you are getting the latest pages from the server. Also, if the videos don’t work for some people, let me know as it’s still a bit experimental.

I have only added 2 videos to previous posts (links below), so don’t feel you need to revisit everything blog post looking for videos, as you will only be disappointed.

Sri Lanka - The Hill Country
India - Punjab

So, Vietnam... best place in Asia we’ve been so far! We have found the Vietnamese to be a friendly, welcoming lot who love to drink (heavily) and eat at really random times of the day. There is no real breakfast, lunch and dinner times here, if they’re hungry, they’ll eat! The scenery has been breath-taking which you will see below and the driving is no crazier than other Asia countries.

However, Vietnam is the only real place we have seen crime while being away and we have been warned by many other travellers to be extra careful with our bags while out and about. While in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC – the old name for Saigon) we saw a few motorbikes riding really close to women and grabbing their bags and then riding away. In one particular incident, the girl had her bag over her opposite shoulder, so when they grabbed it and rode off, she just got dragged into the road until they let go. I went over to see if she was uninjured, which she was, just a little shaken up.

So, our timing has been impeccable as always and we arrived in HCMC the day before New Year’s Eve. As Vietnam share the same new years as China and Korea, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate with them. The major downside was that the whole country pretty much closed down for 7 days after so not much was open and worth visiting while we were in HCMC. Bummer! Still there were quite a few bars and restaurants open and the Vietnamese food was quite similar to Thai food so both Abby and I were in our element.

Also grabbed a picture of the overhead power cables as I’m sure Nige would enjoy working on these!

On New Years’s Eve, we met up with a load of guys and girls from the USA, Australia and London so ended up just hanging out with them playing drinking games for most of the night. I’ve noticed it seems to be the international standard now to only be allowed to drink with your left hand, and if caught drinking from your right, you have to drink up. I introduced the Aussies and Yanks (and also the Londoners) to the game I’ve been playing for most of my life, first introduced by my good mate ‘Bully’ on one of our Quid’s In nights out in the George. The game pretty much has the same outcome but the main difference is as follows. When the minute hand is on the right hand side of your watch, you drink with your right hand and when the minute hand is on the left, you drink with your left. Simple really! Nobody dares take a swig around half past or o’clock as it’s just not worth it! It was a good night as hardly anyone was wearing a watch.

Oh I must also mention we weren’t allowed to say the words ‘TEN’ or ‘MINE’ and the consequence of saying either of these was 10 press-ups regardless of where you were or traffic conditions. Abby turned out to be really bad at this part of the game and everyone was really impressed by the number of press-ups she did during the night in the middle of the road. And none of those girly press-ups either! Well done love!

So New Year’s Eve was pretty mental, and I think all of HCMC’s 7.5 million motorbikes were out on the streets at the same time. It made quite a sight!

Abby also let me buy a motorbike while in HCMC and I picked up a little Honda Win 100cc for just over six million Dong. We planned to copy Top Gear and drive it up north saving on bus and train costs. This turned out to be a great idea as we saw some of the amazing parts of Vietnam we wouldn’t have got to see and also there wasn’t many trains or buses running (if any) because of the new year holiday. I’m sure we both looked like Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber!

We managed to find a shop that sold decent helmets although by UK standards they were still quite illegal but I felt better than just the baseball cap style the local’s wear. So having got all geared up, we headed north with no road maps as there were no shops open to buy any! The poor bike did very well given its severe lack of power and although it was carrying around 3.5 people in weight, it didn’t struggle that much.

The ride out of HCMC was crazy. We left early hoping the traffic would be quite but it was just mental and we found that to be the case all times of the day! Abby took about 30 minutes to get into it and from then on she loved it which surprised me. She’s even considering letting me have one now when we get home.

Feb
9
2013

Scambodia

The plan was to only stay in Bangkok for a few days to chill out after India and then go straight into Cambodia to do the main sights. Cambodia was always way down on the priority list for me but it was somewhere near the top on Abby’s, although I doubt it’s near the top anymore! It had the makings of a lovely country and is fairly beautiful in places but just the country’s history – plagued by war and how they have dealt with this, made me not like the place.

We got a bus from Bangkok to the Cambodian border which took a while, then we quickly passed though Thai immigration and then spent what was damn near 3 hours queuing up to get through to the Cambodia side. There wasn’t even that many people trying to enter the country so I don’t know what took so long but it was bloody hot and the weight of our backpacks nearly pushed me over the edge! By the time we got to the Cambodia immigration desk, they couldn’t be bothered with the fingerprint or photos, so just stamped our visas and let us in. Stupid!

We were told the Cambodian bus we were supposed to be getting on was going to take 4 hours to get to our destination, although Siem Reap was only 2 hours away even driving at the speeds my mum drives. It was just another scam to try and get more money out of us (and I’ve spared you all the details about the whole saga of actually getting to the Cambodian border and getting our visas sorted). Anyway, the bloke was getting pissed because I made it clear I wasn’t going to wait for the other 50 people that were on our bus and still at the back of the immigration line, so we just jumped in a taxi and were in Siem Reap in less than 2 hours! Good job we picked up some snacks for the whole journey!

So Siem Reap, is like Blackpool on steroids which is a shame, but apparently this is only within the last 5 years. We were chatting to a guy that was here back then and said pub street had a few restaurants and 5 pubs on it. Now it’s more like the strip in Las Vegas or the so mentioned Blackpool and is just party central for everyone.

The main reason people visit Siem Reap is to wander round the temples, in particular Angkor Wat and the famous Ta Prohm (temple from the Tomb Raider movie). We hired a Tuk Tuk driver for the day and visited all the temples we could fit in. No wonder some people spend a week just looking around a couple of them as they are massive!

As they are all Buddha devoted temples, everything was built to be symmetrical and was very impressive.

I will spare you of the other 1000 photos of temples we have taken!

While we were here, we had to hit the night markets. Those of you with a keen eye may have spotted that markets seem to be the reoccurring theme throughout most of the places we have visited. This is not my doing let me tell you! But no, you are right. We never seem to be out of the damn markets! Abby bought herself a classic Casio watch for £1.25 as not knowing the time for the last 5 months has begun to annoy her!

All in all, ignoring the party life of Seim Reap the temples were amazing and well worth a visit!


Phnom Penh

So again, bad timing coming here as the Cambodian King had died and everything was pretty much closed. Well when I say died, he actually died back in October but they were having the burial ceremony the day after we arrived and most things were closed. I can’t imagine the smell from the coffin if he’s been in there for 4 months so the people could pay their respects.

We had planned to visit S21 which was the main prison and interrogation facility come genocide museum, followed by the killing fields which was located just outside the city. However, having both been depressed to the point of suicide after walking round S21 for a few hours and reading some of the stories from the few survivors, there was no way we were going to the killing fields!

I didn’t know anything about history of Cambodia until I got there but for those that are interested about the S21 part of Cambodia’s war plagued past, the cut down version is as follows: In 1975 a regime called Khmer Rouge lead by some idiot dictator wannabe, Pol Pot, overthrew the government and took over a local high school in the middle of Phnom Penh and turned it into a prison and interrogation facility. It was one of 150 of these facilities across the whole of Cambodia but the most famous as over 20,000 people (an awful lot of those being children) were interrogated and then executed. This went on for 4 years until the Vietnamese got fed up and half invaded, half helped the Cambodian government regain control of its country.

S21 to walk around is very depressing as they have left it pretty much how it was when they regained control and turned it into a museum. Blood stains the floors in most of the prison blocks and the torture devices are still so intact, they could be used tomorrow if required. It was all very depressing.

It makes me wonder what’s going on in the local’s heads as they are all banging on about how fantastic the king was and how his son has a lot to live up to, but what the hell was he doing sitting on his arse for 4 years while thousands of his people were killed? Surely you would try to fight the regime and if you get your arse kicked you just ask the neighbours to step in and help. And it’s not as if they haven’t got any neighbours, the country is landlocked by 3 others! It just doesn’t make any sense!

Anyway, rant over, here are a few pictures to depress you all, although you probably won’t understand the gravity of what you are looking at without actually going.

What annoyed me most about the above photo is, the regime obviously didn't think that a sentence beginning with the word 'you' required a capital letter!

So that was it really, didn’t do anything else here as the palace and most other things worth doing were shut because of the ex-king. So to summarise Cambodia, it was ok, worth going if money and time is no object, but in my eyes a place I won’t be rushing back to! Maybe other places in the country are worth a visit, the temples definately are worth it!

Feb
4
2013

Bangkok

So we finally left the chaos and cold of north India and headed for the much needed warmth and easy going lifestyle that Thailand hopefully had to offer. Unfortunately my body had decided that it was going to choose today to be as ill as it could possibly be and it made the 3hr 40min flight hell!

We flew with Indigo airlines (India’s budget airline) as the flight was relatively cheap and boy could you see why once we had boarded. It made Ryanair look like Emirates and that is no understatement! It was also bloody hot on the plane and at this point I had a raging fever. The air vents above the seats was like having an asthmatic mouse blowing on you! Not the best experience of my life! Needless to say, I spent a bit of the flight throwing up in the toilets. Nice!

We eventually got Bangkok airport at 1am and headed straight for Khao San Road hoping to be able to stay close but not too far away. It was amazing to experience, the road was heaving with more drunken nationalities than I could probably name, music blaring from everywhere and police wrestling some drunken English guys to the ground. The smell of the street food was amazing and it was a mission to pull Abby away from the midnight market stalls! After 10 hotels/hostels turned us away due to being full, we finally found somewhere on a quiet road just off Khao San.

I spent the next 3 days in the room, not too far away from the toilet and still with a really bad fever. Additional stomach cramps, muscle and kidney pain, plus a fair bit of blood were it shouldn't be added to the mix made it not a great experience at all! Abby took good care of me but we were both quite worried at one point and if I hadn’t shown any signs of improvement then we were going to hit the hospital. Anyway, I’m still alive so all is good! We are not too sure what it was, and yes, before you start mum, we have had all our jabs but, Typhoid was the only one of mine that ran out while we were away, albeit, I was supposed to be covered until the end of Feb…

Abby managed to do a small bit of exploring herself but we only really had one day were we went to the markets to do a bit of haggling. We bought a few things and Abby sampled some of the delicious smelling food that was available as I still couldn’t keep anything down.

We will be hopefully coming back to Bangkok on our way from north Thailand to the beaches so will explore it better then. All I can say is, it’s a fantastic place to go and I’m a bit sad that I have only just been to Thailand now. Everyone is so friendly, it’s so relaxed and the weather is amazing! If we (the boys) had gone when we were younger, JC would have certainly either:

a) Never come home
b) Married a stripper
c) Been arrested

But more realistically, all of the above!

Oh and Dan, we have to start ‘Project Camper’ when I get home, so start warming Jo up to it!

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