A Travellerspoint blog

Saying good bye to Vietnam with a trip down the Mekong :)

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We thought the traffic in Hanoi was bad… well it’s tame compared to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)! The speed has stepped it up a notch, and there are more mopeds this time, it’s a bit mental to say the least. We stayed in a guesthouse which was a bit of a weird experience as it was pretty much just a local’s house, we had to walk through their lounge and kitchen to get to the stairs which led to our room!

We headed out to have a little look around and do a do a bit of shopping. We found a place that did haircuts for less than two quid, and seeing as my T&G haircut had left me with a mop still, I decided to go for it. I’m not sure if the guy had ever actually cut hair before as his cutting style was a bit different. Both sides are probably different lengths as he never did the whole hair pull thing to see if they match, but it’s shorter, so that’s the main thing! I’m going to look like a hillbilly by the time I get home so it doesn’t really matter anyway haha! Food here doesn’t seem to be the same standard as we’ve found up north, but it’s dirt cheap and you get a lot of it. We were looking forward to finally finding some heat, though 35 degrees in a humid city is a bit of a killer. Wandering around with backpacks on is not for the faint hearted that’s for sure, it puts previous gym workouts to shame!

The following day we were up bright and early for a two day trip along the Mekong Delta. After another couple of hours on a bus we got to the port and boarded a small boat. First stop was a brick making plant which was pretty cool. They showed us how they make the bricks from clay and then fire them. We then headed to a farmers house and tried some local tropical fruits and were entertained by the locals singing and playing musical instruments in traditional Vietnamese style – it was a bit different, but enjoyable :) We then got taken to see how they make coconut candy which is a traditional sweet here. For someone that’s not the biggest fan of coconut, it was actually pretty nice, not overpowering at all. We also got to try coconut wine which was pretty potent, at 29% alc a couple of regular glasses of that and you’d be on the floor! We were then met by our next ride which was tuk-tuk’s. These ones were in the form of bikes with trailers attached, and off we bounced down the road. We then boarded little rowing boats which brought back memories of the canoe in Chitwan… I was squealing as it was a bit rickety again, and people were laughing at me, for a change :) We got to our lunch stop and had a lovely lunch of spring rolls, rice paper rolls which were hand made in front of us, fish, chicken curry and soup which was cooked on our table. It was lovely! We then headed back to the boats to meet our bus and head to our overnight one star hotel, yep just one lonely little star… though I’m sure we’ve stayed in worse so far!

It turned out that the hotel was in fact fine, the only let down was the brekkie. I still can’t stomach egg fried rice, noodles or soup at that time in the morning… Lee seems to be doing just fine though, no shock there! He’d eat curry for breakfast every day given half the chance. We headed out to the river again, this time to see the floating fruit and veg market. Blimey, what a lot of boats, and people everywhere selling and exchanging their goods. Next stop was at a fruit orchard where we saw many different fruits being grown like mango, papaya, guava, pineapple, orange, lime, banana, coconut and jack fruit, and we then got to try the fresh produce which was lovely. We took a wander down the river and saw how simple and calm their daily life is, people washing their clothes and themselves (in the river) and people relaxing in hammocks, all very tranquil. We then headed back to the boat and took a ride back to the port for lunch, before returning to HCMC.

Overall the Mekong was without a doubt how we pictured the ‘real’ Vietnam and such a world away from the crazy hustle and bustle of the cities, such a breath of fresh air!

With one night remaining in beautiful Vietnam, we ended up spending most of it in our sweat box of hotel room trying to book accommodation in our next destination. Eventually we headed out for some dinner and then returned for a mammoth Skype session :)

Now time for our next two flights to get us to Laos… Oh how excited I am at the prospect of more scareoplanes…

Posted by Cass - Lee 09:38 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Making our way down 'Nam :)

semi-overcast 28 °C
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Hoi An... Well what can I say – we loved this place and will return without a doubt! A lovely little town with a very charming little waterfront lined with cute bars and restaurants, not to mention millions of tailors!

When we arrived we were faced with the challenge of finding accommodation for our two night stay – this was actually really easy and we found ourselves in a lovely little place for a bargain price – I think finally I’m learning to go with the flow rather than stick to a Cassie style plan! We ventured out for some food with some people we met on the bus, and my god are we loving Vietnamese food. Off to bed we headed as we knew we had a big day ahead – shopping.

By the morning I had in fact talked myself out of buying any clothes etc here as I thought we may end up with old tat. Well, once we headed out and popped into a tailor recommended to us it was a different story! 3 shirts, 2 blouses, 2 dresses, 1 pair of shorts and 1 pair of leggings later, Lee dragged me out of the shop before we spent any more! Then for the shoe makers… I was in my element. I ended up choosing 3 different pairs of boots to be made! Having feet the size of ski’s and legs like sticks, it’s impossible to find nice boots to actually fit – so once I had the finished result in my hand the following day I was smiling like a Cheshire cat :) We now have a shipment of clothes and shoes on its way back to the UK… we think it must be by rubber dinghy as it’s going to take 3 months! It will still beat us home though :)

Exhausted from shopping we headed to the waterfront which was the place to be it seemed. The water looked beautiful and people were headed out in little boats, and there was some live music playing. We had a gorgeous meal, then the heavens opened and out came the little people selling poncho’s and umbrellas, they don’t miss a trick :) Overall Hoi An is without a doubt another little favourite on our trip so far, and we will be returning with empty suitcases again one day!

Our next stop was Nha Trang, a beach resort, sadly also blanketed with cloud so we are still like a pair of milk bottles. We decided to head to a local spa for the day which was great! After wallowing in a bath tub of mud like a pair of pigs, we then got to bathe in a hot mineral tub, followed by a lovely swim in their mineral pool which was also nice and toasty :) We decided to head down to the beach for a stroll and while posing for a picture, Lee got attacked by a sneaky wave and had soggy feet and walking boots for the rest of the day, haha!

Next stop Mui Ne, another beach resort. This time much quieter and really pretty. We sat and watched the kite surfers and took a lovely walk down the beach to watch the sunset. Well I say a nice walk, it was until I spotted the little crabs scuttling around on the beach, and a whopper of a jelly fish, I then became a nervous wreck and that wrote off any chance that I was getting in the sea!
Unfortunately the mossies were out in force here though – After being bitten all night, we woke up in the early hours scratching away and decided to try to find the offending insect. There he was smug as anything, sat on the pillow, clearly too fat to move! Lets just say, he got it, and god did he make a mess.

We headed off on a trip to see the famous sand dunes. After visiting the red ones, then the white ones, and then the yellow ones, we were glad there weren’t any other colours to the sand dune spectrum as we were feeling a little sand duned out! Lee decided to try out the plastic sheets and slide down the dunes, though he will be getting sand out of crevices for a while yet!
We visited a little Fishing village which was pretty cute, and a fairy stream. Not sure what a fairy stream actually is, but either way it was a cute stream. Randomly you could even have a go at riding an ostrich, but sadly we didn’t have enough time to do it!
After almost missing our bus and being told we needed to get on a motorbike (with our backpacks) to catch it, we are now on route to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)… 35 degree heat in a city… here we come!

Posted by Cass - Lee 21:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam - The beginning of 2012 for The Holdsworths!

15 °C
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Well, after reading about all of the scams that seem to happen in Hanoi, we got off the plane with our guard up. So far (touch wood) we have been pleasantly surprised and have found everyone to be genuine. We spent our first day just having a wander really and soaked up the atmosphere. As expected, crossing the road is basically taking your life in your own hands! You do just have to start walking nice and slowly so that you’re seen, and the million mopeds heading for you slow down and dodge you, which is handy :) We did however, whilst eating our dinner, see a poor guy get knocked off his moped and slide across the road on his face with no helmet, it was awful :( The driver just drove off, and left the locals to help him locate his bike which had gone in the opposite direction to him, and his number plate which was bent in half. It just goes to show that maybe the introduction of a few road rules would definitely benefit this city.

We took a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake which is in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It has a lovely monument on an island in the middle, and the lake itself is surrounded by floral decorations for the Chinese New Year. Most of the flowers were in the shape of dragons, as 2012 is the year of the dragon in the lunar calendar. Around the lake the trees were decorated with colourful lights, as was the bridge, it was all very pretty, they sure do go to town with their celebrations! We saw a crowd gathered at the edge of the lake and headed over to see what all the fuss was about. There was something in the water that kept coming up to the surface, though we couldn’t quite make out what it was. Lee thought that it was some kind of crocodile, yeah cos you’re gonna have a croc circling a lake in the middle of a city after all!? He backs up his story by telling me that he saw a picture of a croc on our hotel brochure, hmm. It turns out it is actually a giant turtle, which is endangered – so no, not a croc Mr H ;)

One thing that is quite noticeable is the size of the women here, I feel like a giant… even more so than China! Lee’s sister Sherry (twig as he calls her) would actually look a bit chunky here, and that’s saying something!

We then headed off to Halong Bay for an overnight boat trip. We were joined by a sweet little guy, who was for want of a better word a bit ‘simple’. He told us half of his life story and that he was really proud of himself for coming away alone etc. He was really excited that he would get to go to Halong Bay with us as a group. After a 4-5 hour bus ride we arrived at the bay… and it was immersed in a foggy mist and a bit of rain, not ideal! We got plonked in a little boat to get taxi’d to our main boat, minus the little guy that was on the bus. We had no idea where he had gone, just that he wasn’t with our group anymore. On the boat, we had a lovely little cabin with a great view over the water, well what we could see through the fog! We got served a really fab lunch… which consisted generally of seafood - prawns, crab, some kind of fish and calamari. Just when we thought we’d reached the end of our monster meal… more arrived on the table. Then we headed off to see a cave, which I was dreading. The thought of heading into the side of a great big rock or mountain really doesn’t excite me, as my mind goes into overdrive thinking that the cave opening will miraculously close up and I will be trapped forever, or there will be an earthquake or something equally tragic! But in we all went and it was amazing. The cave really opened up and the lighting used inside really was great. We then headed back to the boat for yet more food. The crew clearly didn’t think that they had fed us enough for lunch and so plied us with about seven courses of food, and just as we thought we might explode along came curry and rice!? Out came the trusty game UNO and we finished the evening in true traveller style :)

The following day, up we got to be greeted with yet more food, and then headed out to another cave. This time we had to get into a little rickety boat and be rowed out to it, which I wasn’t overly excited about again. Luckily though it wasn’t really a cave, more of an opening to a little remote part. There were cheeky monkeys eating fruit and clinging to the side of the limestone karsts, so cute! One little baby monkey was sitting in a little tree which was clung precariously to the side of the karsts, and a big grumpy monkey decided to grab the tree and start shaking it violently to get the baby off it. It was pretty hilarious and the poor baby monkey had to get itself onto another tree nearby to get away from the grumpy one! We then headed back to the boat for brunch, yes… more… food! The time to leave the boat arrived and we headed back to solid ground to catch our bus. Along it came… and there sat on the bus waiting for us was the little guy again! Luckily though, he hadn’t been sat there all night, he had in fact been on another boat :)

The next day we kinda fell off the backpacker wagon and went to get a haircut… at Toni & Guy, yes I know, not very backpackery! It was hard enough trying to explain to them what I wanted done to my hair… I even had to speak to someone on the phone who then translated to the stylists! We also popped to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. After a really enjoyable (and scam free) time in Hanoi, it was time to head to our next destination. We then experienced our first ever sleeper bus. Hmm, well as I mentioned before I am a giant here… and so I am too big for the bunks, in fact any westerner in general is! We arrived in Hue after about 14hrs of being curled up in a ball and very uncomfortable. With a 4hr wait for our next bus to Hoi An, we headed off to see the Citadel. It was pretty cool, and reminded us a bit of the Forbidden City in China, and was also known as the Forbidden Purple City. Then we started to head back to the bus and I decided we hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, so I did my party trick, I fell down the curb and dislocated my knee… right outside the Citadel – ouch! I did manage seven weeks of travelling without doing it, so I did pretty well really! The locals were fab and rallied around, putting some ointment like tiger balm on my knee and then giving my muscles a little rub bless them. Then called over a taxi to get us back to the bus stop for our next bus. We now await the fun of trying to find accommodation in Hoi An when we get off the bus… with the backpacks… and me hobbling along with a big blob for a knee – oh joy! The thought of visiting the million tailors Hoi An has to offer for some tailor made clothes is keeping a smile on our faces though :)

Posted by Cass - Lee 18:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Seeing in the New Year in Hong Kong!

semi-overcast 17 °C
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Being our last port of call as a group, we were really excited to finally make it to Hong Kong! We began with a walk down the Avenue of Stars where we saw the tributes paid to the likes of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. We took the Star ferry crossing to the other side and took the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. It was flippin high and the accent up the mountain was a bit un-nerving to say the least! It does however have a faultless record… so far… even though it relies on one single steel cord… gulp! The view at the top however was fantastic. The lights of Hong Kong really did themselves proud, and the sheer height of some of the sky scrapers is pretty immense.

Shopping is the thing to do whilst in Hong Kong… though being a backpacker is not ideal. For one, I don’t have enough room in my backpack for anything new, and secondly the Chinese as a race are a darn sight smaller than me. We popped into a Levis shop and the highest waist size they went up to was a measly 29ins… I am clearly obese in Chinese terms!

After having to say another emotional goodbye to our little Chinese travel family we headed to our next hotel. This was to be our treat of the entire trip… a lovely 5* room overlooking Victoria Harbour in HK. OMG the view was to die for and the room itself was top notch! Though all I could think of was the smack in the face we were going to get when returning to the hostels we have now become accustomed to, haha! We both just stared in awe at the view we had, the skyline is just so colourful and bright.

We spent NYE with Jen, a friend of mine from many years ago, and she also went to school with Lee – what a small world! We took the MTR and a bus to the island Jen lives on, to then get a message instructing us that a bearded man in a golf buggy was on his way to collect us, and to wave our arms like loonies so that he knew who we were! We were in stitches :) It was so lovely to catch up after many years, and so nice to meet Matt and the gorgeous William, as well as some of her new friends in HK. She did however lead us astray and plied us with copious amounts of alcohol, including tequila slammers. After finally getting back to our hotel at 5am, needless to say we spent the next day feeling awful, I mean we are getting on a bit now after all! Not the best situation when lugging mahoosive backpacks to the airport for our next flight to Vietnam. We were that dazed, we nearly missed the flight… and ended up sprinting to the departure gate just as it was closing, and being the last two people on the plane – ooops!

It was definitely a memorable New Year to say the least! Happy 2012 everyone :)

Posted by Cass - Lee 23:28 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Our Christmas away from home…

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We spent the lead up to Christmas in a lovely little town called Yangshuo. It was full of cute little shops, café’s and bars with live music. The scenery surrounding the area is made up of beautiful limestone rocks – just like Halong Bay in Vietnam, but not situated on the water. We were taken by our guide to Clay Pot restaurant which served lovely food in clay pots funnily enough, and a beer, which cost us just over £4 for us both – bargain :)

Lee seems to be taking over this place. Not only does he have a mountain in his name, he also has a beer and a river now…

We took a ride down the Li River on a bamboo boat. The scenery was beautiful and very mystical. It was a bit chilly sat at the front of the boat with the water splashing in our faces! Our tour leader, Jerry, was on another boat and was trying to attack us with an oar which was pretty amusing :) We visited the Old Town village which was like a step back in time, so lovely to see. A truck was passing through and managed to take down the phone lines. The drivers helper was standing on top of the truck, lifting the main power lines with his bare hands – nutter!!
On our way back to the hostel, we visited a Sugar cane factory. Well I say factory, it was just based on the side of the road in a sugar cane field. They were producing brown sugar in blocks for locals to use. We got to sample some of the finished product, as well as raw sugar cane itself!

That evening we had planned to go for a massage. As we have been doing a lot of walking etc lately, we decided to go for the acupressure massage. About 2 minutes into the massage I was wishing I’d picked the relaxing massage as I felt like I was being tortured! Yes I know I can be a drama queen, but I actually have bruises on my back. Lee said he almost screamed when they massaged his calf muscles, so it wasn’t just me being a wimp!

The following day we were booked to take part in a cookery class. This began with a walk to the local market to get ingredients. We went through the fruit and veg part first and were warned about the meat section. We all chose to go in, and as much as you can expect to see animals you wouldn’t usually be accustomed to eating, being slaughtered – nothing quite prepares you for the sight of it. As we walked in we saw geese, ducks, chickens and rabbits all alive in cages. Those that had had already been slaughtered were hung up and ready for purchase. I saw a bunch of already skinned chickens, and then saw one still moving – horrific :( We then saw a cage full of cats – one of which quite resembled a cat we used to have called Arthur. We then saw skinned dogs hanging and waiting to be bought. Then the worst part of all was hearing a dog frantically barking, which abruptly came to a stop. My eyes were drawn to the direction the noise had been coming from, and I then saw a dead black and white dog laying on the floor and a machete heading in its direction. It brought a tear to my eye, and really was enough to make me want to head back to the hotel and give the whole cooking class a miss. There were many weird and wonderful meats and delicacies to buy… turtles, giant bull-frogs, snails, all sorts of fish, crab, yabbies… to name a few.
The class itself was great fun. We spent the morning preparing our ingredients, and then got cooking. We made an eggplant dish which was lovely, Gung Bao chicken which we will most certainly be making at home, and a local speciality called Beer Fish. We then got to eat everything we had made, and were well and truly stuffed!

On Christmas Eve, we took a bus ride from Yangshuo to the Longji rice terraces. Our driver was a nutter… overtaking on blind bends as we climbed the mountains – most women on the bus just chose to close their eyes.

We were then faced with an uphill hike for 45mins to get to our village and accommodation which was pretty much in the middle on no where! Oh my god it was freezing up there… we had an air con unit which just didn’t want to work very well. I thought my teeth were going to wear each other away with the amount of chattering they were doing! We decided to take a walk further up the mountains and the views were beautiful across the rice terraces. Our guide then took us to a famous viewpoint and the views were equally beautiful. We shared the little paths with locals carrying wood and other amenities, and horses transporting goods from the terraces to the local villages.

Christmas Day… we decided to begin the day with a death defying walk in the dark back to the viewpoint to watch a Christmas sunrise. Unfortunately it was a little bit cloudy, but still a really nice way to start the day! We had found Christmas hats whilst shopping back in Shanghai, which we gave out whilst watching the sunrise. We then decided to try and get a photo of the whole group jumping. This whole process went on for ages and we were laughing our heads off. If any of the locals could see us they would have wondered what on earth a bunch of people with santa hats on were doing laughing like hyenas and jumping around on the mountain at 7am!

We then hiked for over 4hrs through the terraces to get to our next village. I was actually dreading the hike feeling particularly lazy and thinking of what I would be doing at home on Christmas day. But it was actually another highlight of the tour for us! It was so peaceful and really felt as though we were in the middle of no where. We came across some locals who are known for their really long hair (as in almost down to the floor), which they then showed us and also sang for us which was a bit different! We arrived in our next village and accommodation and then went for our lunch, or should I say Christmas lunch. It consisted of a bacon burger for Lee and noodles for me! We then had the customary Christmas nap/rest before the evening shenanigans. We all got together in a little bar overlooking the beautiful terraces. We had a fire and a Christmas tree, with presents that we had all gotten for eachother. Our task had been to get one nice present and one not so nice one  We played cards, uno, and a game with the presents where we had to take a playing card and if it was a heart we could take any present from the pile and unwrap it. Once all of the presents were taken we then had 45mins where we all took written cards from the pile which told us to take presents from others in the group, or give presents away etc. It was a real laugh, though we ended up with nothing, and Lee was dared to eat a chicken foot (a Chinese delicacy) to win a present back – which he did… Ewwww! He is now the proud owner of some travel chopsticks. Having been up for almost 20hrs we retired to bed… after what has been a very memorable Christmas Day!

On Boxing Day we had a lovely long lie in, minus an alarm clock which makes a nice change on this trip! With very achy muscles from our Christmas Day hike, we headed up to the viewpoint. Well worth the walk as the views were amazing as usual! We had a nice lunch before heading back to civilisation to get our sleeper train to Hong Kong :)

Posted by Cass - Lee 00:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

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