08.03.2010 - 14.03.2010 27 °C
Ann here; Luke needed a rest from exhaustive blogging. This is going to be a big one; we have been slack with blog but busy with travel, so I suppose that’s a good thing.
So we were looking forward to our Ha Long Bay/Cat Ba Island tour when we last wrote. We were done with Hanoi and Uncle Ho (although we still see him on every propaganda poster), and ready to swim in the sparkling waters of one of the most beautiful places in the world.
We are at the hate stage of the love/hate backpacker/backpack relationship; sick of lugging the bloody things around, so we smugly thought we would leave our big bags at the hotel and take daypacks on our 3 day tour.
We did not reckon on cold weather. We didn’t have long pants, shoes, sleeping bags or layered clothing; thongs and a hoodie was as snug as we got. We hopped onto the boat after a 3 hour bus ride, ready for the stunning view; but we couldn’t see it; the mist was that thick. And cold – after 5 mins on the boat, feet like icicles, we realised our mistake. Oh dear; 3 days to go. Anyway we whined a bit and went on, and excitedly went down to look at our cabin; window was open. Rain was coming in. Blanket was just a fraction heavier than the air. Oh no.
Beer was our savior. Turning down the kayaking due to the danger of getting wet and never getting dry, we turned to expensive cans of tiger beer. Good plan. After a few beers, new friends from Holland and Sweden also being warmed by the amber ale, we thought it might be bed time. It was 8pm; there is not much to do on boats. We went down to our cabin and shivered the whole night through. Waking up in the morning we were excited by the thought of a hot shower; but no, there was no electricity while the boat was stopped. This meant getting dressed with the window open; a dangerous past time! Bu no more flashing for me; no one saw!. The next morning was a cruise to Cat Ba Island, a visit to the Cat Ba National Park, and free time in the afternoon. The day was a lot clearer so it was photo central – very pretty. Cat Ba national park was a bit of a let down; it was a hike up slippery steps to the top of a mountain - and we only had thongs. we went up about 5 steps before we realised it was asking for broken teeth to continue. As a German said when he looked at our feet “Those shoes are for the beach, man, not for ze mountain!” We got to Cat Ba town and had another meal where someone else decides what you will eat as a group; and is rarely what you want, or very nice. Noodles and rice are the safest options, although confusingly, there is always french fries. Odd. Anyway, we had originally look forward to swimming in our free time, but the cold weather put paid to that idea.
It was time for motorbikes.
Mums, you can stop reading now.
The motorbikes were my idea, even though Jane had come a cropper on one they still sounded fun. Luke was also keen and we hired ours from hotel. Worryingly, the first bike only had one rear view mirror. Luke got that one, as I was still trying to wuss out. Mine was a bit smaller and had two mirrors, which I never used anyway. We set off, having no idea where we were going and good reason to be frightened of vietnamese roads. Luke was excited, I was petrified, and spent the first 20 minutes contemplating all the ways I could die, and wondering how Jane fell off our her bike (Luke knew but wouldn’t tell me). Once we were out of town, and away from staring people, it became fun. We did no zooming, only putting around, and that way we could take in the pretty island and the views that you only usually see for a minute on busses. The automatic bikes were good, mine only died a couple of times. We took some video on the camera as proof of our bravery; I had a helmet without a visor, hard core, but Luke's looked like a pony club helmet; hilarious, Mad Dog Thornton indeed! (Jane: neither had any burberry on them; I was very sad.)
Anyway, we decided we’d had enough and headed back in town, where we had to turn left into our hotel’s street; this is where I almost got cleaned up by the bus. With some scooty Vietnamese styled driving, I avoided the bus, but lost my nerve. Unfortunately, it was the wrong street. In finding the next street, I narrowly avoided a truck (which was admittedly going very slowly), but I nevertheless handed back the bike gladly, our hands so cold they were frozen into bike handle shaped claws. We went back up to our hotel room which had a funky smell but a heater that would go to 30 degrees: result!
Dinner was again ordinary, shared with our Swiss friends olga and marion, (marion was a bloke), our 4th lot of grey army mates. Olga had just turned 70 – they were ace. Marion took 10000 photos per minute, but they were really nice, with great stories from when they worked in Hanoi, about 20 minutes after the war ended. We liked olga and marion.
So the next day it was cruise back to ha long city, and bus back to Hanoi, a short break then the train to hue. We went back to our hotel, ready to get real shoes and jeans on, hoping fervently that our bags were still there. They were; but our train tickets nearly were not. The ticket man explained:
“I have problem. Can you help me?” we said “We’ll try” – very confused. He continued “I book your tickets, but very busy, and when ticket man is gone I check tickets and he gave me ones for 2 days earlier.” he produced the tickets. “Don’t worry, I have your tickets for tonight. “ , and he produced a second lot of tickets, these for the correct date, the 10th. “ he continued, “I have tickets, but very expensive, i was wondering, can you help me?” I was super confused, but I looked at Luke and his beady expression implied he understood what was going on. the man said “Would you like shower, you can use room till 7pm, and use internet..”. Luke told him we’d do that and think about how much we could help; the guy had made an error, had to cover the cost himself (because it was his error), and was asking us for more money to correct the error. We were not aware at this point that we had already paid $10 per ticket extra to the man’s pocket. Maybe we DID come down in the last shower! Anyway, we cleaned ourselves up, which was glorious, and gave the man a little money at the end (clearly not enough; he was not happy). Dodgy! We really did not like Hanoi at all.
So off to the train station! Nothing in english, so where we had to go was a mystery, but we showed our ticket to enough people and were shepherded onto our sleeper train. The quality of sleep on a train is bad, but my level of excitement at sleeping on a train is high, so they cancel each other out. We got through the night, and landed in Hue at 11am, hungry and ready for a new town. We got lunch immediately; a hue pancake which is one of our favourite things ever. They are delicious! We then cruised around, looked into tours, and had some beer. Every town seems to have its own beer here! Ace! We didn’t like hue beer but did like huda, . The next morning it was time for the city tour, which was hilarious. It wasn’t meant to be, but the tour guide was very unwittingly funny. Hue is all about the monarchy, as it was the capital for the monarchy times, before the ho chi minh government came into play. We went to some very ornate tombs of kings (no more dead body viewings though) – the “small poc” king – who had no children and was ugly due to poc scars, the “sexy king”; who had 500 concubines; five per night, and over 100 children; and the “homosexual king”, who wore lots of makeup, played tennis, and “looked like woman”. We also went to the Citadel which has been pretty thoroughly knocked down, by bombs during the war, and a beautiful pagoda, where I reconnected with taking pictures of monks. After a long day we just wanted some food and bed. No beer.
The next day, yesterday, we went on a DMZ tour, which was from 6am-6pm. Our guide’s english was pretty challenging to understand, but between her and the lonely planet guide we understood what we were seeing. We went to khe sanh, the ho chi minh trail (which is a road; unexciting. Some of the trails (there are lots) are still secret for miliatary use – exciting! I wanted to see those ones!) And the vinh moc tunnels – 1km tunnel system which housed 300 people for 6 years. The would have been a very challenging 6 years. 19 babies were born in that time, one of whom we met, or saw, outside the museum. He looked like he had spent a lot of time in a tunnel. He was dancing, with a torch in hand.
After another long day, we got a delicious meal, and gladly took ourselves back through the rat infested streets to our hotel.
We are now on the bus to Hoi An. Going from Hanoi, to Hue, to Hoi An is linguistically very difficult and confusing. We are looking forward to Hoi An though; getting our suits made will be fun, and we’ll see the old city, and eat some good food. Our hotel has a pool – massive win! Currently on the worlds worst bus, many gouges up the side. Encouragingly we have not been in any fatal accidents yet.
I hope the mums stopped reading.