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Published: February 27th 2009
"You want pineapple, lady?"
From what we've seen so far of Vietnam, it is definitely a country of variety. This includes the landscape, weather and local customs. What isn't different is the huge volume of motorbikes everywhere; we'd guess they outnumber cars by at least 10 to 1. It makes crossing the roads very interesting. Here in the North, you can definitely feel the Chinese influence, which should stand us in good stead for China, should we ever get there.....
25th February 2009
As planned, today we flew north to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. It was an easy 2 hour flight, with a bus into the city and a free ride straight to a hotel...we hadn't booked any accomodation, but switched on Hoteliers wait for new arrivals at bus stations to make themselves a catch! The hotel is nice though so why make life harder than it needs to be?! We spent that afternoon trying to orientate ourselves to the many busy streets of the Old Quarter of the city. We weren't as instantly taken with Hanoi as we had been with Saigon, but as we get to know the city it definitely grows on you. Hanoi is the hub for travel agents
The bridge to Jade palace
selling tours to North Vietnam's highlights. Hanoi was always pencilled in for us to be the place we would apply - and recieve! - our Visas for China, so we were holding back on making deciscions on tours until we had been to the embassy. As we were going to the embassy early tomorrow, we hit the hay early!
In Hanoi we are staying in the Old Quarter which surrounds the Hoan kien Lake. This is a very prestigious lake in Vietnamese history. In 1010 the then ruler returned from battle victorious with his sword in hand. He sailed into the middle of this lake where he was met by a giant golden turtle who took the sword from him and took it back to heaven. We just thought you'd like to know...
26th February 2009
Every time we have a trying day we are in hindsight given early signs of what is to come...we woke before 0700, to the high pitched shouts of the cleaners 'chatting' up and down the staircase outside our door! Ignoring our polite requests to "shut up", we gave up and went for a quick breakfast before heading to the Chinese Embassy. Transport
The Golden Turtle!
here was the back of a motorcycle (or xe-om) each, which inevitably ended in both drivers becoming lost and us walking the last 20 minute leg of our journey. One thing we've noticed in Asia is that NO-ONE refuses a fare; knowing where the destination actually is, is seemingly irrelevant! On arriving at the embassy, in high spirits, we were warned that we may not be able to get our visas here. Unpurturbed, we filled in our forms, gave in our photos, Daniel climbed back onto a xe-om to collect photocopies of all our documents, and we were ready to go in! We waited in the queue to join the queue(!), where all our documents were checked and ok'd. Although nervous, surely at this point they wouldn't turn us down?......we put on our politest voices, and prettiest smiles, and were allowed to join the real queue. 5 minutes later, shoulders slumped, we headed back out of the door having been rejected. We had been told that we were not allowed a tourist visa to China...as tourists! 'Luckily', we then heard on the traveller grapevine, that we could pay twice as much, through a Travel Agent, for our visa. As China
Within the Temple of Literature
made up such a huge chunk of our trip - and with our next flight being from Hong Kong - we were left with little choice but to pay the hefty commission. We had big cry faces for the next hour or so. Alongside the money issue - which is clearly an annoyance - this also meant that we would have to be in Hanoi longer than anticipated. We had decided not to buy a tour as we fancied a little bit of adventure having been hand-fed our travel since we hit S.E Asia, but this was out of the question too now. To explain a little; travelling in S.E Asia is incredibly easy. At almost every stop you are offered onward travel, every tour under the sun, and accomodation at your next stop. Although this is great, it lost the sense of adventure a little for us - the not knowing where you are sleeping that night, or what you will see, or even IF you will get there. This is actually what makes it fun for us, and why we are here.
Anyway. By now the dark cloud that had followed us all day had turned into actual drizzle, so we headed back to our hotel....where we watched rubbish American TV, and sulked.
We decided that we weren't to be beaten, and so headed out in the evening to sample some old school Vietnamese Water Puppetry, which we can confirm is every bit as weird as it sounds! At one point, there was a naked man (puppet), riding a buffallo (also a puppet), in the water!! We watched open-mouthed for 45 minutes.
27th February 2009
Biting the bullet, and wanting to see the spectacular North of Vietnam, we booked ourselves onto a trip. This was no easy feat, as there are approx. 8 million Travel Agents here, and the prices range from $10 per day, to $60 per day, for allegedly the same trip....we were dubious.....
Because of our dwindling time in Vietnam we were torn between two tours, both very different. One was to see the spectacular scenery of Halong Bay, and the other to see the equally spectacular Rice Paddies of Sapa. After MUCH deliberation we decided on the former, leaving tomorrow for 3 days. Fingers crossed our passports will be waiting for us on our return to Hanoi, with a nice shiny Chinese Visa in them!
This afternoon we walked (in the now familiar drizzle) to Vien Mieu - The Temple of Literature. This is Vietnams first University, dating back to the 1000's, and so is obviously built in a very traditional style. Needless to say, we didn't pay for a guided tour. We also enjoyed a 'power walk' with the locals in a park before heading back to our hotel.
We have felt slightly dejected the last couple of days as we hadn't even contemplated the fact that we wouldn't make it to China and the beureacracy of embassies is infuriating. But we've agreed that this should be an honest account of our trip - and not every day is Angkor Wat or Phi Phi Island. We are certainly not feeling sorry for ourselves either though and when we are (hopefully) climbing the great wall or cuddling a panda(!) this will be long forgotten! Embassies, grrr!!!
Don't let the water puppets give you nightmares!
D and H
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