A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam - Beautiful Ha Long Bay and islands


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My bus turned up promptly and I set off for Ha Long Bay with my fellow crew mates. There were three couples (2 from Denmark, 1 from Hong Kong), three single lads, again from Denmark and me :)

The journey to Ha Long Bay was about four hours and so most of it was spent sleeping. Transfer to our boat went smoothly and I was assigned a double room to myself. Nice :)

First things first, an amazing lunch on the boat and a chance to chat and get to know each other. Slightly tricky as most conversation is in Danish lol! After lunch we cruise through the bay yo our first island - Tree Top Island and do our first hike. All up hill! Think I should have read the itinerary closer as I hadn't realised I'd signed up for any hikes. I'd envisaged, lazy days cruising around the islands. Anyway, I made it and the view was truly spectacular so worth it. I was doubtful at the off, especially when I saw the sign warning elderly folk not to start the climb :)

Time for a quick swim, or in my case paddle, then back to the boat for kayaking. I'd never done before and although I was tempted I decided to save it for another days adventure, settling instead for a sun bathe on deck in peace, with my book. bliss...... And oddly enough, probably the first time I've done something like that since starting my adventures.

The evening saw another fabulous dinner, followed by a 'magic show' out on my one of the crew and actually very good. Few drinks and some chatting ended the night. Somehow the pre-organised karaoke got forgotten! Not surprising as the Danes really don't go in for that sort of thing from what I can tell.

We had to be up at 7 in the mor ing for breakfast, so I had Na Na (the guide) banging on my door yelling, Madam, Madam Up NOW! I never am good in the morning. breakfast done and it was time for the first hike of the day. This time through a cave, which didn't feel much of a hike to me to be honest. Then time for another swim, before we have to check out at 9:00 - yes, it's still morning! Next for e real hike of the day in the National Park. It was absolutely stunning, but took around 2 1/2 hours in the boiling, humid weather so not easy, but certainly doable.

Back on the bus to transfer to our hotel in Ba Na for the night, more food, then a hike to Monkey Island and more swimming. Bit of a theme emerging lol! I took myself off for a stroll along the promenade where two young girls persuaded me to let them practice their English with me for about half hour. Very sweet. Then onto a non tourist beach where I just sat and blended in, not!

Tomorrow, it's time for my first cooking lesson since starting, so that should be interesting!

Posted by ClareRoach 06:05 Comments (0)

Hanoi - prison, temple and some lovely people


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After my lovely evening with Doug and then some more chatting back at the hostel I finally surfaced around 9 for breakfast and too late for the early morning start I'd planned.

My toast arrived and it was in fact a giant baguette. Random, but delicious! I met a lovely Japanese guy over breakfast. Strange how all the countries just seem to roll into one! Set off to Hoa Lo Prison (the POW Prison) with India who was on her way to the Temple of Literature. We decided to see both places together as they were on the same route. India was great company, chattering as much as me! Her sense of direction was a bit worse than mine though and we both agreed to get taxis back!

The prison wasn't as I'd expected and I was a little Disappointed to be honest so I was really glad we were going to the Temple of Literature. I knew nothing about it beforehand and it turns out there wasn't a book in sight! Very beautiful place though.

Coffee on the way back - egg coffee, later...... Or maybe not! They didn't have them in the cafe we choose - what's the chances :). So we had giant pieces of chocolate cake instead.

I did find the restaurant Vince recommended (owned by the Vietnamese Master Chef finalist) and it was every bit as amazing as he said it would be. Quite tricky to find mind, but an adventure in its self!

Met some more amazing and inspiring people this afternoon evening - Yasmin who has now put Napal firmly on the map for me and Kate (a pretty nutty American) who has helped me plan out the next leg including a volunteering opportunity. Just need to get them organised before I catch up with her again in Cambodia (all things willing).

Good job I've just about finished this as Hung has just told me I should think about going to bed now as I have an early start tomorrow :). Very funny.

I'm off to Ha Long Bay in the morning and will be sad to leave here, simply the best hostel I've stayed in.

Posted by ClareRoach 08:15 Comments (0)

Hanoi - A very warm welcome


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Ok so I confess, I was feeling a little flat entering Hanoi after a lovely couple of days and so didn't land with my usual optimistic enthusiasm. It made absolutely no difference though because Hanoi grabbed me, shook me and made me enjoy. My first impressions are of a city that feels like a giant village where scooters certainly rule the roads. Crossing I thought was impossible until I realised you just shut your eyes hold your breath and go for it! Perfect.

Some of the good feeling could be as a result of the hostel I've chosen to stay in, Hanoi Brothers and as you'd guess it is run as a family business by two brothers. It's absolutely spotless but I would stay here even if it wasn't just to experience the welcome they provide. I was immediately swept into their world, but with all my needs being worked through first. Nothing too much trouble.

With them having made sure I was sorted, not just for my stay with them but for my stay in Vietnam I could relax and explore.

Off I set in search of my first requirement in a new place. Nice coffee. I failed at my first attempt but walked and walked until I found a little gem of a place making perfect coffee. On the way I thought I might be brave and try the famous Vietnamese Egg Coffee but by the time I got there I was so desperate for a cappuchinno I decided it would have to wait.

Instead I had an ingenious idea and persuaded two random people to order one so I could see what they looked like. One ordered hot and the other cold. Tomorrow, I'm going to try the hot version.

One thing someone could have warned me before I went out is how windy it gets in the evening. I have a short, flippy skirt on (it's hot, ok!) and I am struggling to take a single photo whilst maintaining my dignity!

Anyway, after a wander Through a maze of little streets I stumble upon the lake and remember about the water puppet show I wanted to see. Managed to get tickets for a show beginning in 10 minutes. Everything working out perfectly today.

Jury is out on the show itself. I followed some of it but understood a lot more when my new friend, Doug who I met in the show explained it some more to me. He was a really nice American guy who had been doing an internship in China (in language) and was having a couple of days here before going back to New York.

We had a really nice dinner of traditional Vietnamese food and I fell in love with the fish in sea salt batter with mango sauce - I can't say how delicious it was. (Pictures on Facebook of course!)

Another full day planned tomorrow, so speak to you soon.

Posted by ClareRoach 10:06 Comments (0)

Hong Kong


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Well what a funny little place you are. On arrival, you reminded me of Shanghai but once I was walking through the streets I could see how wrong I was. In terms of transport arrangements etc. It felt much more like Japan, in that it's very organised and slick. Things run to time and getting around is clear and easy. This turned out to be a really good thing as the Island and other districts I found were a nightmare to navigate. I spent loads of time on the underground going back to my nearest exit to re-work my route. I got lost just about every day but always found my way home.....eventually!

I made a good start exploring, doing the traditional touristy things as recommended by Julia, Tina and Bill, thanks guys x. Although I failed to make the afternoon tea Bill. I kept trying to make it back in time but either got lost or distracted by the other problem that got in the way frequently.... Shopping! OMG there is shopping opportunities everywhere!!

Initially I was in my element. But then I discovered that all the Malls and streets packed with people actually buying bags of stuff in all the designer shops got boring. Even if I could afford to shop in them, there wouldn't be much point taking a designer handbag on the road with my backpack! Just as the thrill wore off I discovered the Malls around Ladies Market and the more affordable shops. Phew I thought. It was short lived. I was excited to go shopping for some well needed new underwear. I know this is a bit much info for a blog, but it's important you will see. I'd forgotten all the ladies in Hong Kong (and Japan actually) are tiny. Size 6 for the big ones. I'd lost a bit of weight so was able to pick up shorts and a skirt in a Gap store. More a 10 than a 6 mind but underwear mmmm different matter. It wasn't the knickers that were the problem but I don't think there is a Chinese girl on the island that wears anything bigger than a C cup. Now that was a problem. Suffice to say I will have to do some more shopping when I hit Vietnam tomorrow.

I can't sign off without a mention to the outlying islands. The beaches are spectacular. Stanley is still my favourite. I even broke my own rule about never visiting a place twice and went back there for a second day, and wasn't Disappointed. (Thanks again for the recommendation Julia, you were right, amazing!)

I'll let you know how I get on with the shopping when I write you from Vietnam x

Posted by ClareRoach 22:36 Comments (0)

Observations on Japan


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as Japan was so special, I thought I'd include some of the random things that I noticed whilst there:

Transport

Trains, platforms etc. Have Smoking Rooms
Trains, underground and buses are very efficient and easy to follow. everything has a logic and announcements are made in Japanese and English
Mobile phones have to be switched to silent and you aren't aloud to take calls in carriages - have to go into luggage areas
You get on a bus at the back and pay at the front as you leave.
Taxi doors open and can be closed automatically by the driver. Including back doors.
Bus travel is cheap, subway a bit more but trains are really expensive.

Culture

There is no rubbish, anywhere. People just don't litter. I saw one plastic bottle on a stairway which someone picked up as they passed and put in a bin, tutting at it being left.
Japanese love their communal baths. Everyone washes in showers around the edge then sit around in shared baths. All completely naked. Some are segregated for men and women, lots are mixed
The Japanese culture is very deferential. Everyone is so courteous of each other and unbelievable helpful. EG: whilst trying to work out my bus map, a guy came along and helped me, without me asking for help and as a result missed his bus. It wasn't an issue and he simply got the next one that came along a couple of minutes later.
The Japanese dress very elegantly. Ladies generally have little straw hats and/or sun parasols and never seem to get hot and sweaty even when wearing several layers.
everything seems logical and ordered and people are incredibly compliant. EG: if crossing lights are red they don't cross, even if there hasn't been any traffic for ages. I crossed before I realised this and looked back every five minutes or so and they were still all waiting, even though there wasn't any sign of any traffic. No one said anything to me about crossing early but I felt too uncomfortable to do it again and have now become equally compliant as odd as it feels.
Also, no one crosses roads where there aren't any crossings
There aren't any raised voices, everyone speaks quietly but with a sing song tone. End of sentences raise in tone but not in pitch.
Greetings on arrival and departure from shops, restaurants and with friends involve lots of words and bowing of heads.
Tattoos aren't really acceptable. I haven't seen anyone with one and there are notices explaining you may be refused entry if you have one.

Food & Drink

All restaurants and cafes have 'mock up' plates of food outside showing their menus
There are Starbucks, Subways and McDonalds on every corner
It took me a while to discover that restaurants and cafes tend to be underground, connected to buildings which look like office blocks, or are simply subways. Once I found this out the choice of food available is incredible. They cater for most nationalities, you just need to find out where!
Public toilets are every couple of yards and are spotless, even on trains and in subways etc. They are all free to use and restaurants don't have their own toilets - everyone just goes to the nearest public ones.
There are little baskets at the side of tables for customers to put bars and belongings in.
I have never seen so many different rods that I don't recognise. Some I can't even tell if they are for eating or not
Starbucks is full of teenagers all sitting in silence doing homework or studying
An alcohol culture isn't evident. I haven't seen anyone drinking or drunk and there are signs on entrances saying people who have been drinking will not be admitted.

Accommodation

Gets booked up early and is very expensive
Ryokans are popular (traditional Japanese B&Bs) but not always cheaper than hotels

Posted by ClareRoach 17:53 Comments (0)

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