Vietnam – Through My Eyes

The cities are bright, busy and packed with energy

The countryside is wild and awe inspiring

Vietnam – Through My Eyes

Vietnam is a beautiful, breath taking country

The cities are bright, busy and packed with energy

The countryside is wild and awe inspiring

Taste the best coffee in the world

Go and see stunning dynamic Vietnam for yourself

It has some of the most iconic views in the world

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Vietnam – The Hanoi to Hue Overnight Train – Not for the squeamish but an unmissable experience

British Rail would be twitching and litigating against such apparent recklessness

Hanoi train station

The station in Hanoi is quite bare compared to Europe’s sign-written, commercial railways. Stark grey concrete and not a word of English or at least none that we could see. No shops or the niceties of vending machines or cafes.

The trains are utilitarian and reminiscent of a film noire.

 

It’d make a great cold war film set. In comparison to the madness of colour, sound and constant frenzied friendliness that is Hanoi it just made me feel cool, cold almost and quite vulnerable.

Vietnam's bustling red lanterns and fast motorbikes

It was quite an odd feeling on a hot and humid day. 

This was when we were sure that going on a G Adventures accompanied group trip was worth the money. The vast open station with platforms lined with long anonymous aged trains was quite daunting. You know in an exciting way.

Officials in Vietnam like a good uniform preferably with braids and metallic trimmings demanding respect.

I didn’t get to grips with who was the police, security or rail staff throughout the whole trip. We meekly followed our impressively uniformed train guard and Cambodian travel guide across train tracks, YES, we walked across the train tracks.

Continue reading “Vietnam – The Hanoi to Hue Overnight Train – Not for the squeamish but an unmissable experience”

Why You Should Go On A Bike Ride In Hoi An, Vietnam

My untrained eye didn’t deceive me on that one as the seat dug into places it really shouldn’t, or at least not without due invitation!

Why You Should Go On A Bike Ride In Hoi An, Vietnam

What better way to immerse myself in the culture of Vietnam than to cycle. While somewhere in town a tailor was creating my beautiful hand made clothes, I decided to pass the time seeing a bit of the ‘real’ Vietnam.

Now let me admit I can ride a bike in the tradition of ‘you never forget’ however I have still to master the art of jumping up kerbs and no hands trick cycling a la BMX style. This basic skill of mine is enough to enable me to get from A – B but not in any artistic, or too speedy, fashion.

You can therefore imagine my trepidation / terror…

…when the cycle man arrived with a bunch of bikes with varying degrees of rust and dents, in my amateur opinion very aged brake cables and decidedly uncomfortable looking seats. My untrained eye didn’t deceive me on that one as the seat dug into places it really shouldn’t, or at least not without due invitation!

 

Well I had decided to try everything I could

I would embrace all new learning experiences with a smile so I got in position and set off. Wobble wasn’t the word to quite cover the way the cycle heaved quite violently at every bump, and let’s put it this way Vietnam is not known for its smooth pot-hole free highways.

Cycle_ride_in_Vietnam_with_local_cow

We took our life in our hands…

to cross a major junction, remember I can’t do hands free so…mirror ( what mirror), signal (WHAT NO HANDS) manoeuvre (don’t go too fast they will hit you!) took on a threat level as significant to me as a two year old walking across the UK M1 motorway. OK I admit it I was scared. It lasted approximately one minute until I reached the other side and then the absolutely stunning beautiful although rather bumpy raised grass pathways between the rice fields.

Continue reading “Why You Should Go On A Bike Ride In Hoi An, Vietnam”

Vietnam – Mekong Delta Day Trip – Coconuts, toffee and snakes

‘Hello love, here’s your jacket spud and beans and by the way how about holding a Python later.’

Vietnam – Mekong Delta Day Trip – Coconuts, toffee and snakes

We had Mekong Delta trip as an item on the Vietnam to do list. You may already be familiar with my 1 – 2 – 3 method of planning a trip.

No? Well quick recap:

1 – MUST DO THIS!

2 – Really want to do this

3 – Will I have time / money to do this?

So back to the Mekong. It was a no 1 but prior to the trip I’d not booked it. We knew we had a few days spare at the end of our Vietnam tour so a trip to a local agent would not be a problem. We’d compare prices and get the best deal.

In hindsight maybe we should have done that, however as we had travelled and enjoyed our whole trip with the tour guide we didn’t. We took his recommendation and slotted into a trip he knew about.

We climbed on board a very rickety boat, very rickety!

If it’d been at the beginning of the journey it would have made me nervous but by now we’d melted into the way of the East. We’d accepted their Health and Safety concerns aren’t managed quite as they are in the West. Those who’ve been there will understand I am using a tad of understatement here! Some others on the trip were ‘newbies’ apparent by less creased clothes and a more nervous demeanour.

Vietnam Beauty

The local guide chatted to us in English and gave us a small printed map of our trip. We’d be out all day and see a lot, lunch included. The first stop off was reached and I took my life in my very shaky hands as I climbed up a rusty ironwork bridge to land. I love land. I don’t like bridges.

Continue reading “Vietnam – Mekong Delta Day Trip – Coconuts, toffee and snakes”

Introduction to Vietnam – it lived up to all my expectations…and more

I’m all for having body confidence however some people maybe should be educated in the art of epilation or the existence of nail clippers before venturing into the big wide world.

Introduction to Vietnam – it lived up to all my expectations…and more

Vietnam boats on the river

Why Vietnam?

I have always been fascinated by Vietnam. It has been a dream destination on my ‘to see before I die’ list since before they were called ‘bucket lists.’ I concede that a love of Apocalypse Now, the excellent interpretation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, was initiated due to my adoration of the star Marlon Brando (swoon.) It developed further into a deep interest of Vietnam and the conflicts and challenges it has faced.

To have lived through that era it became embedded in my psyche, despite it never being included in my official education, sadly.



Why did we visit Vietnam now?

My honeymoon was spent in Thailand and Cambodia, this initial trip to the East made us keen to return as soon as possible. Vietnam had been on the initial plans for that trip of a lifetime. Until the independent travel advisor suggested, in no uncertain terms, that if we spent less than two weeks committed to the Viet tour we would regret it.

Mekong Delta boatsWe therefore decided to go for our first anniversary and I can honestly say it’s one of the best holidays we’ve had.

I’m a committed travel journal devotee. I never forget my pen, and always, should I say almost always, have good quality notepads to hand. These notes came in handy when typing here. Next time I hope to write whilst travelling however for now sit back and enjoy.

The Vietnamese are generous and friendly

As with any trip, the people made the place. Its beauty is breathtaking and inspires cliché.

Vietnamese train driver

Scared of flying? Me too but get over it.

To be transported in a metal tube with wings is a necessary evil in my eyes although I’m proud to say I’ve moved on from my traditional paranoia. I no longer have my eyes squeezed shut or my fingers in my ears, I no longer weep upon take off or indeed landing. I now can sit alone, not clenching anyone’s hand until it goes blue. I admit I do not have a sense of humour upon entering the airport until leaving at the arrival zone but I’m working on it.

I safely negotiated the customs area without having sun cream (a whole other story) or any other tranklements confiscated. We flew in relative comfort watching numerous films on the way as well as recording all journal-worthy events we’d already experienced.

Going travelling? Get to the spa.

I’m a truly dedicated people watcher so airports are a great source of interest and amusement to me. It never fails to amaze me the huge variety of shorts, flip flops (thongs to those antipodeans reading this) rucksacks and travel-wear there are in the world, not all in a good way.

I’m all for having body confidence however some people maybe should be educated in the art of epilation or the existence of nail clippers before venturing into the big wide world.
Continue reading “Introduction to Vietnam – it lived up to all my expectations…and more”

Remember to look down…

I know we are always reminded to look up, as a huge fan of architecture I follow that missive in a fairly dedicated fashion.

I love this tile, I spotted it mid trek in an ancient temple grounds in Vietnam. I loved the idea of it being a hundred year old (or older) wild beastie looking for it’s next prey. I realise it was possibly the potter’s signature or maybe a fix made last month by a local potter with a pet cat.

It brought a smile to my face and proved you should always look down as well as up.

Halong Bay

This is going to be a short item. My skills in language are totally inadequate to describe this idyllic location. Please go there, go kayaking, sleep on a junk even one with UPVC double glazing fixed to ancient patched woodwork.

Take the opportunity to tour the caves, see it all.

It is truly breath taking awe inspiring peaceful and meditative, beautiful…all your senses will be in tune with nature.

Our food was local cooked on the boat, we had been warned not to eat on the boat so maybe check your own catering but ours was cooked, artistic, fresh, tasty and very well worth the cost of the overnight alone. I can’t fault it.

This is truly a once in a lifetime ‘bucket list’ trip and I feel honoured to have been given the privilege. Long may it continue, it should be protected at all cost.

Hanoi

The airport was extremely efficient and friendly, we westerners seem to have an arrogance that the rest of the world is disorganised and somehow shabby however I must say the East has got the service industry totally down pat. The bags arrived almost before we did, the staff helped us find the cab with a smile, and a free bottle of water.

When we went to Thailand the only rude people we met were at Manchester airport on our way home and on first impressions Vietnam is the same. The poverty in the country was immediately apparent once we were out on the road however there is also massive apparent wealth. I found the large high end vehicles (fully pimped and tinted) tackling traffic alongside the crowds of ancient cycles and motorcycles quite disconcerting. The bikes were loaded with everything from a family of five to a wardrobe although the most impressive in my eyes was the water man who was carrying at least 20 empty water fountain bottles; I was hoping a breeze wouldn’t catch him off guard.

We met our fellow travellers and guide. I’m not a sociable traveller by nature. I’m a headphones sort of girl however I’m realising that independent travel only works if you are willing to take those headphones off and smile and mix a bit; I always have to make an effort to mix. My partner is the opposite so between us we get to know who we want to, and not those we don’t take to. We then headed out for a wander with camera in hand, or rather back-pack to be safe. I always feel a little paranoid at first until we get the ‘feel’ of the place however the friendship shines through and we were soon happily braving the  roads and browsing the shops.

The most important advice is ‘don’t run across the road’ we soon relaxed into it, they can avoid you, and will do if you walk. They don’t like you heading at speed in some unknown direction. A car horn in UK is used with aggression and often a swear word or three; in Vietnam it is more out of courtesy a sort of ‘hey I’m here, be careful’ type of way, an almost apologetic polite toot instead of a forceful blast in Europe, maybe naively we felt safer crossing the roads there than in Yorkshire although the looking five ways at once including on the pavements was obligatory.

Whilst walking around the lake it soon became apparent that it is a lucky place, numerous brides and grooms very being  photographed with temple and bridge forming the scenic backdrop.

Viet coffee is awesome, their speciality, although I usually drink it black we soon adopted the local condensed milk option, never had too much and yes we brought lots home, coffee that is not milk. We were sidelined by a group of about 20 students, all desperate to speak with us to pick up snippets of English and add to their knowledge; it occurred to me how comparatively ignorant we are in the UK, how we take free education for granted. I couldn’t even imagine how amazing our country would improve if we embraced learning and world languages in such a keen and open manner. If only.

In the evening we ate at a recommended restaurant, most were hidden above shops and in hindsight we should have researched this a little better either before hand or with locals. Mango was the venue and I can’t fault the food or service; catfish tastes great although not sure you’re supposed to eat a ‘bottom feeder’. The restaurant is apparently a favourite of Gordon Ramsey, and maybe the price range reflects that so after the mild panic of ‘how much’ we embraced the evening with travelling companions, avoided pudding and left early to avoid hefty drinks bill.

We treated ourselves to a cycle taxi ride home, the poor guy nearly collapsed with the weight of us two crammed into one cycle, he ripped us off but as he probably needed heart treatment after the trek due to his age and frailty so we didn’t mind. Money well earned despite the inflated price on arrival compared to the quote. Sometimes, especially when a few locals turn up to support their own it’s better to smile and accept the price with grace, discretion is the better part of valour. 

The journey meant we didn’t need rocking to sleep that night, and after a lovely shower in a bathroom which was as luxurious as any provided at a Premier Inn we filled our boots with rice and vegetables at breakfast. Isn’t it funny how you can be so imaginative with  food on holiday and so stuck in your muesli and toast ways at home!

Next on the agenda, Halong Bay, if you travel to Halong Bay from Hanoi on your own I can recommend calling at the tapestry / embroidery / sculpture centre on the way, it is supportive of women with disabilities and sells the most intricate embroidery. Their patience and skill was humbling, I hope they truly were cared for.

We settled for a small black and white picture of a stereotypical scene. We have committed to supporting locals with purchases where possible, as well as only buying things we actually want and need. We knew exactly where this picture would go. The same shop had massive statues and we very nearly spent cash on one for the garden, they are still calling to me via the internet, the quality was excellent, as was the price.

Luckily the bay had ‘reopened’ after a storm the day before, we weren’t aware that the governor decides on when you can go, or can’t, due to safety in bad weather. Phew, so glad he let us visit.